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Millennium Post

No compromise on helpline for women

As governments tumble and regimes come and go, institutions and basic amenities inevitably take the hit. Unfortunately, certain foundational principles and organisations based on them cannot be compromised upon even in the direst of straits. One such indispensable institution is law and order and facilities to ensure women’s safety. The 181 helpline, which was set up in the aftermath of the 16 December 2012 gang rape, and proved to be an integral part of the arsenal against the rising menace of sexual violence against women, is bearing the brunt of utter neglect caused by crumbling governance. Chronic apathy towards women’s health and safety and forgetting it in the rough and tumble of the shifting sands of regimes has brought the crucial amenity on the verge of closure. The round-the-clock helpline that has so far handled more than 75,000 cases of crimes against women and continues to receive thousands of calls on a daily basis is too important a tool in the hands of Capital’s women to be toyed with in such contemptuous manner. Evidently, the cold calculus of amoral and practical governance chooses to disregard the pressing issues that affect at least half of our people. The threat of rape, sexual violence and other forms of aggression continues to plague Delhi’s women, more than any other city in the country, irrespective of class, language or religion. Yet, the Delhi government officials, who currently are under the command of lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, have ignored renewing the contract of the helpline’s all-women employees, who haven’t been paid their salaries for two months now. This, despite the head of service, Khadijah Faruqui, requesting the L-G’s intervention in writing in the matter in order to keep the helpline, one run by staffers mostly from poor families, afloat.

Evidently, in the chaotic churn of electoral politics, what gets sidelined are the issues pertaining to everyday life and policies, the mechanism of ensuring daily safety for women and children. Despite the mass uprising in the wake of 16 December fatal gang rape, incidences of sexual violence and atrocities against women have not come down. However, thanks to acute shock and awareness campaigns by activists, as well as the spruced up legislation in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, more such cases were being reported. The 181 helpline, which provides counseling to callers, and takes decisions on whether police reference should be sought, if hospitals, NGOs and courts should be involved, proved to be a crucial intermediary for women, both from the educated and poorer classes, who would otherwise find it difficult to overcome the initial hesitation and report the matters directly to the police. Yet the 17 staffers, all survivors of sexual violence themselves, and their head, Faruqui, have been denied their salaries, in spite of handling over 7.29 calls till date, mostly pertaining to sexual abuse, acid attacks, kidnappings and other atrocities. Obviously, the L-G must ensure swift action to alleviate the financial problems of the bravehearts who do their bit to reduce the hazard of crimes against women.
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