3. Helplines that Work, Police that Responds
IN THE past few weeks, the Delhi government was faced with the embarrassment that its much-publicised crisis helpline for women — 181 — wasn’t working at all. The flaws with helplines isn’t a new story, but in other parts of the country, systems have been put in place that could serve as solutions. In Odisha, Satish Agnihotri, former secretary of the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), explains how he took on the system and changed it.
He found that communication gaps between various departments often become the large gaping holes in the crisis response system, rendering it dysfunctional or inefficient. Police stations across the state didn’t have a list of shelter homes available for sending women to when they faced violence. The homes existed, but the information didn’t. This was immediately corrected and lists put up at stations.
Agnihotri created desks at all police stations in Odisha to deal with women and child-related issues. Standard operating procedures were put in place and training of police personnel set up. But crucially, a radical step was taken to enable the desks to be set up. From the DWCD funds, 1 crore was set aside and transferred to the home department, which looks after the police. This transfer of funds made it possible for the desks to be set up at police stations, along with counsellors who would be paid on a case-by-case basis to deal with victims of violence and trauma.
The message Agnihotri would like to send out is this: it can be done not just in Odisha, but in every state. Provided there is the will to track the conversations and outrage against violence into simple, workable solutions.
Another part of the problem with the police force is their response time to victims and much of this centres on setting up effective and workable helplines.
Kalpana Vishwanath of the Delhi-based NGO Jagori has an interesting suggestion. 911 in America is a helpline that is not manned by the police. Similarly, our police personnel didn’t join the force just “to answer the phone”, she explains. So, why not create a synergy with BPOs trained in responding to calls within a certain period of time and free up more police personnel to do what they really signed up for?