By Lipi Mehta:
On September 17, 2014, I read something that filled me with hope. A tweet from the Press Information Bureau of India stating that Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development, was working towards setting up One-Stop Crisis Centres in every district of India for “protecting women at district level”.
— PIB India (@PIB_India) September 17, 2014
This was welcome news for me and for thousands of others across the country. Today, we are at a juncture where tackling heinous crimes of sexual assault needs to be of utmost priority. One-Stop Crisis Centres (OSCCs) comprise of a doctor, a counsellor, a police official, and a visiting lawyer – all of these facilities under one roof – so that the treatment and rehabilitation of the survivors of sexual assault can start immediately.
An OSCC in every district would help speed up the medico-legal as well as the judicial process, especially in a country like ours, where the survivors and their families are often humiliated and are made to wait for hours before any action is taken. The need for setting up OSCCs in every district of India was highlighted by the Justice Usha Mehra Commission, which was set up to provide a recommendation for women’s safety and judicial procedures post the horrific gang-rape of a medical student in Delhi, in December 2012.
The student and her friend were severely injured and were left lying on the streets of Delhi, while the police were arguing about which jurisdiction the case fell in. Many a times, private hospitals direct the survivors to public hospitals as they don’t want to be involved in any court cases. At times, the unbelievable apathy of our judicial system has found place in the testimony of many survivors, some of them have been fighting for justice for as long as twenty years! In such a situation, I saw some hope in the official concept note released by the Women and Child Development Ministry on June 30, 2014, which mentioned that 660 ‘Nirbhaya centres’ or OSCCs would be set up across India. However, a few days ago, this tweet by President Pranab Mukherjee came as a huge surprise:
One Stop Crisis Centres, one in every State, are being set up to provide complete support to women affected by violence #PresidentMukherjee
— President of India (@RashtrapatiBhvn) February 23, 2015
From 660 centres to just 36? One rape in every 20 minutes and just one OSCC per state? The numbers just don’t match!
And how, Mr President, should a woman affected by violence in Solapur district come to Mumbai (or wherever the OSCC in Maharashtra will be), if she requires immediate treatment? And what about the areas where the residents have to travel for kilometres to reach even the nearest Public Health Centre, forget an OSCC in a city far away! Supreme Court Advocate, Karuna Nundy, quoted on the President’s tweet, saying that this was “almost an insult”.
Yes, it absolutely is! And this is something that all of us, as a nation, should be offended by!
Some might remember that the demand for OSCCs as per the Justice Mehra guidelines was also raised on Satyamev Jayate’s episode on rape. Post that episode, a large number of citizens supported the show’s demand, and a petition detailing the same was submitted by the show’s host, Aamir Khan, to PM Narendra Modi. After his meeting with PM Modi, Khan tweeted that the PM had assured him that he would look into all the matters raised by the petition. Moreover, one of the key elements in the BJP’s campaign before the 2014 General Elections was women’s safety, with one of their slogans being, ‘Bahut hua naari par vaar, abki baar Modi sarkar’.
Just three months after the Satyamev Jayate episode, because of the swift action taken by the Madhya Pradesh government, ‘Gauravi’, an OSCC along the lines of Justice Mehra’s recommendations was opened at J. P. Hospital in Bhopal. The NGO, ActionAid India, spearheaded this initiative and said in their initial report that in the first few weeks itself, over 2000 women had sought help and had been assisted and counselled. Apart from sexual assault, cases of domestic violence and dowry had also been seen. Women who have been helped by Gauravi have stated that they have found comfort and trust in the centre and its workers, and are now fighting for justice. Workers from ActionAid India had also met the President along with actor Shabana Azmi to talk about the need for OSCCs across India.
In spite of the existing knowledge of how much help OSCCs can provide the survivors of sexual assault, the budget for setting them up has been slashed from Rs 244.48 crore to Rs 18 crore. Moreover, Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women’s Association said that they have information that the PMO office has remarked, “police are sensitive enough” and thus, there is no need for “such centres”. That truly, is an impractical solution to a mammoth problem, as Sangwan has rightly said.
Here is hoping that the government realizes that they have taken a step in the wrong direction, and swiftly works towards sensitization workshops, if nothing else, for police, doctors, lawyers, and the other stakeholders involved in a survivor’s journey to justice. If not, I can only wonder how we will tackle such growing instances of violence against women, because we can’t tackle the problem by yoga or preventing women from stepping outside the house.