By Oxfam India:
The day Bhina was brought to the Rapar police station, she was bleeding profusely. She was seven months pregnant, and her husband had assaulted her in the market. Naseem, a social worker with the support cell situated within the police station, saw Bhina and her parents entering the police station.
The police refused to file a complaint as it did not fall under their jurisdiction, Naseem intervened. Sighting the special provision which states that a case of domestic violence can be filed in any police station, she insisted on registering Bhina’s complaint under IPC section 498(A) immediately.
Naseem then helped Bhina to get immediate medical treatment. Three months later, Bhina delivered a son and returned to the support cell with her parents to follow through with her case. Bhina’s husband still threatens her, and her parents. Community elders counseled them to compromise and send Bhina back to her marital home. Bhina’s parents however have ‘closed their doors’ to all such people. Softly but assertively, Bhina’s mother Jamaniben says, “We have told them clearly not to tell us what we should do with our daughter. We will not send our daughter to be killed. Where were they when my daughter was being brutally beaten up in the middle of the road? No one even helped us to take her to the hospital. We don’t care even if they throw us out of the community”.
Bhina’s son, Vijay, is now two years old and Bhina says he is quite a brat. She is now learning to stitch and also helps her parents in selling fruits. With a twinkle in her eyes Bhina states, “I now have so many experienced ‘ben’( sisters) to guide me. I trust them and feel there is someone who will stand by me in any situation”.
Police station based support cells are based on the premise that the police are often the first point of contact for women in distress. Consequently, the victimized woman’s trust of the justice system as a whole can be significantly influenced by the response she gets at the police station. If at this point, she fails to get empathetic support, then it is likely that she may never stand up against the violence she faces at home.
Dr. Ila Pathak, a senior women’s rights activist from Gujarat says, “Most often, the concerned police stations refuse to register the complaint of a woman alleging domestic abuse, asking her to return home or persuading the couple to compromise. This can prove fatal. We believe that most women commit suicide only after they fail to get justice. Police have their own reasons for doing so. Often a woman files an FIR in a fit of rage, or she is inconsistent in her stance. Once her husband speaks a few loving words to her, she wants to withdraw her complaint. This makes it difficult for the police to file a complaint as once the FIR is lodged it cannot be withdrawn. But the police don’t realize that it’s natural for a battered woman, who is scared, anxious and lonely, to behave in such a manner. This is something we understand. The support cell on one hand helps the police by calming the woman and helping her think through her situation. On the other, it helps the abused woman understand her rights, the options she has and how she can get legal help. So the support cells bridge the gap between the two”.
Police station based support cells are spaces where women can feel comfortable and discuss their problems openly. Most of them have been given space within the police stations or work from premises close to police stations. Currently, such centers have been institutionalized in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana in collaboration with the Police departments. “It helps to have a support cell within the premises of a police station as police can immediately refer the case for counseling to us. For a woman in distress, it is not fair to make her run from pillar to post. Here we can immediately speak to her, and in the cases requiring police action can be referred straight to the police,” says Surgaben, a village leader at AWAG.
In Gujarat, there are six support centers in six districts facilitated by Oxfam India and its partners Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG), Area Networking and development initiatives (ANANDI) and Saurashtra Kutcch Network against Violence Against Women (SKVAW). While the support cells in Kutch (at Rapar), Patan and Banaskantha (at Disa) are run by AWAG, the one in Panchamahal (at Godhara) is facilitated by ANANDI and that in Rajkot by SKVAW.