(This blog has been submitted on behalf of SharanyaSudheshna and the entire Bhubaneshwar team.)
The popular TV show Satyamev Jayate, in its first episode titled Fighting Rape, screened on the 2nd of March 2014, has once again brought public’s attention back on the issue of violence against women and girls.
In this show, where one of our colleagues also spoke at length, various aspects of gender based violence were talked about and the speakers critically looked at the existing response mechanisms available to the survivor.
Of the many things that the speakers had put forth on the show, the mention of One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC), which went to the government as part of Justice Usha Mehra Commission’s report in the aftermath of Nirbhaya incident, was also widely discussed.
This centre, according to the report, must offer free medical, legal and case related support to the survivor at one place, rather than her having to run between each of these institutions separately. In February 2013, a report that appeared on The Hindu suggested that the Ministry of Women & Child Development Centre was planning to open 100 such centers immediately. While, those centers are yet to open for reasons unknown, the repeated mention of such a model during the show has certainly given the idea a necessary thrust.
In this context, at ActionAid India, Beti Zindabad campaigners organized a meeting of human rights activist to dwell deep into the issue of violence and also to explore what role can a crisis center play, in such situations. Our colleagues in Madhya Pradesh had been addressing issues of gender based violence through a resource centre in Bhopal and this experience was also providing us the necessary challenges such a center has to put up with in its functioning.
The evening discussion was attended by leading members from Odisha’s civil society organizations, by the ActionAid members from different regional offices and also members of ActionAid’s partner organizations from across the country.
The discussions were flagged off by Manisha Gupte, one of the founding members of DILASA under CEHAT’s initiative, which was also the first crisis centre for rape and sexual assault survivors. Tracing the history of how women’s movements and feminist ideologies have tackled the issue of rape and justice for rape survivors, she explained that in the initial phases of women’s movement, it was felt that women needed their own exclusive space to discuss their politics before they could engage with men in an open platform. But gradually women have come to a stage where they can dialogue with the men on issues of sexual violence and gender-based violence in a public domain. And that is the reason why today we are able to conceive of public engagement on rape and sexual assault and can hold the Government responsible for taking up the issue of care and justice for rape survivors. She stressed that it is only the surety of conviction or punishment for assaulters that can lead to any reduction in the acts of sexual assault and rape. Hence the OSCCs have a huge role to play in restoring our faith in the Indian judicial systems.
For over an hour there were responses from members which were in the form on critiques, feedback and inputs on the concept of OSCCs. While most members expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of these centers which comes from their experiences with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act or functioning of protection officers and juvenile police officers, everyone reiterated the need for functionalizing these crisis centers starting from panchayats to state capitals.
While everyone agreed that official apathy, negligence and red-tapeism have defeated most of the progressive people’s rights legislations in the country like RTI, PDVA, PNDT Act, Child Marriage Act, Vishakha Guidelines, etc, there are signs of hope that OSCCs will not meet the same fate since it has come from a strong demand made by popular people’s struggles.
The real challenges lie in opetationalising these crisis centers, staffing these centers and training personnel deputed in these centers. It was felt that detail operational guidelines must be laid down, staff recruited and trained adequately not only in skill but also perspective and attitudes before they are assigned to run these centers. These centers should not be restricted only to district headquarters and cities but to panchayats as well. Accountability mechanisms and punishment for lapses must be clearly fixed before the centers start operating. Further, centers must be equipped to provide shelter to the survivors.
The role envisaged for OSCCs are one of primarily providing in the first instance medical examination and lodging FIR and later on also supporting the survivors with trauma counseling and fighting the judicial battle for justice and conviction to the criminals. It was strongly argued by members that OSCCs are important since this is the first time the State / Government has taken on itself the responsibility to be accountable for rape and sexual assault and provide every possible support to the survivors of gender-based violence.
So it is a step forward in making society violence-free.
However, it was cautioned that these centers are only crisis support institutions and not the “one-stop rape solution centers” because it must be understood that with the opening of these centres rape and sexual assault will not come to an end!
It is only a means of making the police more accessible, judiciary more sensitive and doctors more responsive.
These centers will go a long way in making rape a public crime that women need not have to hide and be ashamed of or bear the burden of for the rest of their lives!
Thus hopelessness should not lead to inaction and men as and women have a great role to play in not only making the centers function responsively and responsibly, but also in public dialogue and engagement on rape and sexual assault along with patriarchy to challenge the structures that lead to rape and sexual assault in the first place. Therefore challenging the concepts of masculinity and engendering the police, doctors, judiciary, nurses, officials, etc must also become a part of larger campaign to end sexual assault and rape.
(The opinions represented here are the author’s personal views)