Narnaul/Karnal/Hisar/Gurugram: A 23-year-old woman from Karnal claimed her parents were beating her up, so one day, she called the police and narrated her story. She had heard from an acquaintance about the One Stop Centre or ‘Sakhi Kendra’ in Karnal, which has been set up to provide help to victims of violence or trafficking, but the police brought her to the local police station. There, she waited from 9am to 10pm before a female constable approached her to take her to the One Stop Centre.
In the 13 intervening hours, the woman sat amid male police personnel, feeling scared.
“In that time, the male personnel were trying to convince me to go back home,” she told ThePrint. Finally, she was taken to the One Stop Centre at 11pm. But in her two days there, she was not provided any kind of psycho-social counselling, nor did she receive any legal help, the woman alleged.
Kavita, an inspector at the Govindpur police station, contested the woman’s claims of the police playing mediator between her and her family. “We only take the women for medical examination when they are found drunk. Otherwise, we don’t interfere in the work of One Stop Centres,” Kavita told ThePrint.
This is not the only instance of a woman speaking out against the process followed in the name of helping them. Two sexual harassment victims who sought help at the One Stop Centre in Rewari district said: “When we complained, the police started asking questions like how were we teased and if there was a ‘setting’. They took us to the One Stop Centre only later.”
This is the state of the One Stop Centre scheme in Haryana, which runs under the Rs 1,000 crore Nirbhaya Fund, set up in the 2013 Union Budget to run different schemes for women’s safety. This particular scheme was started in the 2015 Budget with a corpus of Rs 15 crore, and by 2018-19, the figure had gone up to Rs 105 crore.
So far, 234 One Stop Centres are being operated under this scheme, with the central government also planning 495 new ones. Government data shows that about 1,90,000 women have received assistance. But the ground reality is that in the name of “help”, these women are being forced and/or intimidated to make “compromises”, and being pushed back into the same violent situation they were trying to get out of.
More centres, less cases
The One Stop Centre in Karnal was the first of its kind in Haryana and the second anywhere in the country after Chhattisgarh’s Raipur when it opened in 2015. But four years on, the police are doing everything there — from preliminary investigation to counselling.
The Karnal centre was one of seven that opened in Haryana in 2015 — the others being in Bhiwani, Gurugram, Faridabad, Hisar, Rewari and Narnaul. For the Karnal centre alone, the central government had released Rs 36.4 lakh in funding.
The apparent success of these centres prompted Haryana’s M.L. Khattar government to announce 15 new centres in 2018. But the number of cases forwarded to these centres is not even 30 per cent of the total number of crimes against women.
Haryana government data shows that only 3,186 cases were registered in these ‘Sakhi Kendras’ until June 2018, whereas data from the National Crime Records Bureau had shown that 9,839 cases of crimes against women were registered in Haryana in 2016.
Chief Minister Khattar had told the assembly in 2018 that while 8,126 cases of crime against women were registered between September 2014 and August 2015, the number went up to 10,000 between September 2017 and September 2018.
Amenities supposed to be provided
According to government guidelines, all such centres must be equipped with amenities and equipment such as refrigerators, computers, printers, scanners, telephone, internet, CCTV cameras, beds, bed sheets, pillows, tables, medicines, and clothing for women.
Each centre is supposed to have at least five rooms, and should be located within 2 km of the district government hospital, so that victims may easily reach them. If no suitable place is available in this prescribed distance, the centre must be located in the vicinity of women’s hostels, or government or co-operative institutions.
The centres themselves should also have medical facilities, access to police assistance, psycho-social counselling, legal aid, space for living temporarily, and video-conferencing.
The Karnal centre has its own building and proper infrastructure. With one counsellor, one paramedic, two helpers and three guards, it fits the government’s definition of a One Stop Centre.
However, in Hisar, one room of an all-women police station has been turned into a One Stop Centre, with five beds and two sets of chairs and tables. It is not easily accessible, being on the outskirts of the city, and as a result, saw only 150 cases registered until June 2018.
A domestic violence survivor who sought help from the Hisar centre, told ThePrint: “They start mediating so that they can quickly get rid of the victims. One gets nothing in the name of food. In one or two days, the woman has no option but to leave.”
It’s a similar situation in Gurugram. The centre does have its own building located at a distance of 2km from the Civil Hospital but it has only three beds.
No beds, no CCTV
The ‘Sakhi Kendra’ in Narnaul operates out of two rooms located in the district secretariat. It has no amenities like a refrigerator or CCTV cameras.
Administrator Vandana Yadav lists out a whole host of problems she has faced, saying: “I joined here in 2017. Before that, the centre was being run out of someone’s house. In September 2018, our fund got exhausted. For two months, I stayed put, but the staff strength reduced. Funds were only released after 11 months, which is when I could come back to work. And yet, the paramedic and police posts are vacant.”
Even college-going women have no information about most of these centres, so one can imagine the plight of women who are less educated and therefore further out of the information loop. The number of women seeking help in the Narnaul centre in 2019 is just 11.
In fact, apart from Karnal, all the One Stop Centres are being run out of one or two rooms. In most of these centres, male staff outnumber females. Several times, victims are compelled to spend the entire night in the presence of male strangers.
Most One Stop Centres are actually used to just put up women for a few nights, according to ThePrint’s conversations with the women in distress, centre administrators and staff. The 23-year-old woman from Karnal was also taken by the police after two days of stay.
Paramedic Manisha at the Karnal centre told ThePrint: “We come across mostly run away and domestic violence cases. These cases are brought by the police only. Some of the women stay for one day or two, then they leave. We call their families and try for rapprochement among them so that they are taken back by the their families.”