Speaking about women’s safety in his maiden Budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed on the “need to test different approaches that can be validated and scaled up quickly”. Two schemes were allotted a sum of Rs 200 crore to ensure the safety of women in public spaces — Rs 50 crore for a pilot-testing scheme on safety for women on public transport under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, and Rs 150 crore to the home ministry to improve women’s safety in larger cities.
While the road and transport ministry is yet to work out the details of the project, the home ministry will use this fund on the backend integration of distress signals from the victims to police control rooms. This is a reiteration of the scheme started by the UPA government, which had provisions to install closed-circuit television cameras in public places, GPS and emergency buttons that could be linked with police stations for women in distress, and innovative personal safety devices. IIT-Delhi and C-DAC, Thiruvananthpuram, were roped in for the pilot projects. For a pilot project in Jaipur, C-DAC designed an electronic personal safety system to provide police assistance to a person in distress. The distress alert can be sent through a personal safety device. As of now, the service is limited to Jaipur.
For a nation with over 61.4 crore women, 200 crore to improve women’s safety is a pittance. While stressing on their safety in larger cities, the budget leaves out those who don’t live in large cities. Incidentally, the same amount has been allotted to construct the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat.
Although, safety devices and apps could be a part of the solution, but are they enough to bring down the incidence of violence against women, which has risen by 26.7 percent since 2013?
“The issue of violence against women cannot be reduced to that of infrastructure. We need more holistic solutions that ensure that women are safe in public spaces. We need to look at urban planning to understand what makes neighbourhoods unsafe. We need to work with men and boys,” says Kalpana Vishwanath of Jagori, an NGO that works on women’s issues. Vishwanath is a New-Delhi based activist who has been researching on violence against women in public spaces in cities for the past 20 years.
“By introducing safety devices and apps, the onus of staying safe is put on the woman. What about making the world around her safe?” asks Nandini Rao of Citizen’s Collective Against Sexual Assault, a coalition of organisations and individuals in Delhi that raises awareness about sexual violence against women, girls and transgenders.
Another scheme that has been introduced is the 100 crore Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, which aims to generate awareness and help increase the efficacy of delivery of welfare services meant for women. “The idea of the scheme is to save and educate the girl child. It requires a huge convergence between various ministries such as health, human resource development, etc. The details are still being worked out,” says Shankar Agarwal, secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD).
The Budget also proposes to set up crisis management centres in all hospitals in New Delhi. However, there is a lack of clarity about whether the centres are the same as One Stop Crisis Centres (OSCCs) that the MWCD has proposed.
With a plan outlay of over Rs 470 crores, the MWCD’s proposal to set up 660 OSCCs or Nirbhaya Centres across the country is an ambitious one. These centres will be set up in each of the 640 districts of the country, while 20 others will be set up across Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. Three centres will be set up in Delhi as a pilot.
The proposal envisages the centres to first operate out of rented premises and eventually out of a government facility. However, the district collector will have the option of locating the centre within the premises of a district hospital or within a radius of 5 km from the hospital. An OSCC that operates out of a hospital is a sound public policy measure. It will be a good example of rational and optimal utilisation and pooling of resources by various ministries. The OSCC will also provide police assistance, medical assistance, counselling and shelter for women affected by violence.
“There is a higher chance of women approaching OSCCs to seek help if they are located in health facilties. It would not raise suspicion in the family, which may not be the case were they to visit Nirbhaya centres. It would also guarantee a survivor of sexual violence privacy from the instance she decides to seek help,” says activist Jaya Velankar.
Although the MWCD’s proposal draws up a long list of infrastructure that needs to be put in place, there is no mention of training and sensitisation for professionals manning the centres. The centres will be operational for 24 hours everyday and will house an administrator, an it professional, a multi-purpose helper and a security guard. A retired police official, a para legal personnel, a para medical personnel and a counsellor will be on call and will be brought on board on a pro-bono basis. However, health and women’s activists are concerned whether these personnel will be equipped to handle cases of violence without training.
“Running an OSCC needs building of resources at the courts, hospitals and as police stations. Professionals handling these cases need to be sensitised and should be able to assist each other, while ensuring that the victim isn’t traumatised further,” says a prominent Mumbai-based health rights activist.
Activists who have been working in the field also rue the lack of consultation before the proposal was put out. Instead of referring to models for OSCCs that are being run within the country, the MWCD’s proposal looks at those run in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Rwanda, South Africa, Australia and England.
The problem with the allotments for women’s safety in the Union Budget is that it looks at the issue only from the point of view of protection of women. Provisions for reparative justice, which are essential to facilitate healing, have not been given as much emphasis. A fund of merely 30 crore has been allotted for relief and rehabilitation of rape survivors. There is no allotment for compensation and rehabilitation of acid attack survivors. Although the Budget acknowledges a desperate need to put safeguards in place to protect women against violence, what Jaitley called “testing various approaches” needs to be thought out more carefully and followed rigorously.