Declare Domestic Violence Prevention Service as Essential Services

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Reema (name changed) was being physically abused by her husband every single day. There would be no tomorrow for her if she continued to stay with him. What about her child with a disability who needed medical help? What would happen to him/her? She wanted to escape but where to? She had no close family around so she reached out to a neighbor who happened to be my friend. 

What does one do in such a situation? I looked online through the list of One-Stop Crisis Centres and of the two listed for Mumbai, the nearest one was called “Female Beggars Home”. I didn’t have the heart to suggest this.

Other shelter homes turned her away as they had no vacancies. Going to the home of a friend was out of the question because of the lockdown. Almost all housing colonies were strictly banning the entry of visitors/outsiders to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Out of concern for her safety, we informed the Police. But when they visited her house, she was forced to pretend that all is well, out of fear of her husband’s wrath. 

Finally with great difficulty, after a few days, she moved to an empty flat of a distant relative and found temporary safety. But how many women have that option?

I narrated this incident in great detail just so that everyone reading this is made aware of just how difficult it is to find any support for survivors of domestic violence. The situation I described is more common than you can imagine. Perhaps someone you know may be in need of such help.

I am the Founder and CEO of the Red Dot Foundation (RDF) - a nonprofit that works on sexual and gender-based violence prevention. My team and I have been receiving many such calls for help and support, not only in Mumbai but from other parts of the country. 

  • Survivors who ventured out of their homes during COVID19 were asked to go back home by the police at road nakabandhis (checkpoints).
  • One survivor who made it to a police station with great difficulty leaving her two children with her abusive husband, who throttled her neck and almost killed her, was sent back with just an ‘NC complaint’ being registered.
  • In yet another incident the jurisdiction police station itself was COVID hit and hence the victim could not go there to register her complaint.

Almost everyone knows by now that there’s been a sudden spike in domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of survivors being trapped with their abusers at home. This has been reported in the news. Yet, nobody knows what procedure to follow, whom to call and where to reach out for help or shelter!

I want that to change so that women everywhere can access safety whenever they need it, especially during a crisis like COVID-19. I have started this petition asking the Ministry of Women and Child Development to put in place Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for emergency situations at the national level so that victims of violence are not left adrift. 

The Standard Operating Procedures must include:

  • Providing for online complaint mechanisms that are easily accessible and alternate complaint mechanisms through telephone and SMS or chat apps.
  • Providing accommodation for both victims and their children, financial assistance, legal assistance, and non-disruptive options including for continued education of child etc.
  • Making the husband and other perpetrators to move homes and ensure the protection of the home for the benefit of victims without having to take recourse to court proceedings.
  • Providing accommodation and shelter at homes and alternate accommodations that are commensurate with that which victims are accustomed to. 
  • Providing survivors with ration and medical assistance where the spouse refuses to pay alimony or any other monetary support.

Having such an SOP in place will ensure that women and their children will get speedy and efficient access to help and resources as well as build greater trust in the Government systems.

My organization and I have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on this issue. The court passed an order giving us the liberty to approach the government with the evidence and our suggestions to frame guidelines to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Your signature will help me persuade the government to take immediate action on this silent pandemic.

This isn’t about COVID-19. Eventually, the pandemic will end and ‘normalcy’ will be restored until the next emergency-like crisis hits. What then?

Sign and share this petition so that safety becomes a right and a guarantee come what may.