Nov 23, 2014

‘Survivor’ not ‘Victim’

A profusely bleeding Bhina was brought to the Rapar police station after being beaten by her husband. She was seven months pregnant. Naseem, a social worker with the support cell at the police station, saw Bhina and her parents come in. The police refused to file a complaint, as the area where the assault took place was not under their jurisdiction. Naseem intervened, citing the special provision which states that a case of domestic violence can be filed in any police station, she insisted that the police register Bhina’s complaint under IPC section 498(A) immediately.

Naseem then helped Bhina get medical treatment. Three months later, Bhina delivered a son, who she named Vijay, and returned to the support cell with her parents to follow up on her case. Bhina’s husband still threatens Bhina and her parents and community elders even counseled them to compromise and send Bhina back to her marital home. Bhina’s parents, however, have closed their doors to such people. Softly but assertively Bhina’s mother Jamaniben says, “We have told them clearly That we will not send our daughter to be killed. Where were they when my daughter was being brutally beaten up in the middle of the road? No one even helped us to take her to the hospital. We don’t care even if they throw us out of the community.”

Vijay, is a happy toddler and Bhina is now learning to sew and also helps her parents in selling fruits. With a twinkle in her eyes Bhina states, “I now feel there is someone who will stand by me in any situation.”

Police station-based support sells are based on the premise that the police are often the first point of contact for women in distress. The victimised woman’s trust of the justice system is influenced by the response she gets there. If she fails to get support, then it is likely that she may never stand up against the violence she faces at home.

Dr. Ila Pathak, a women’s rights activist from Gujarat says, “Often, the police refuse to register the complaint of a woman alleging domestic abuse, asking the couple to compromise. This can prove fatal, many women commit suicide after they fail to get justice. The police cite their own reasons for refusing to file a complaint. Often a woman files an FIR in a fit of rage, once her husband speaks a few loving words to her, she wants to withdraw her complaint. This makes it difficult for the police, as once the FIR is lodged it cannot be withdrawn. However, the police does not realise that it’s natural for a battered woman, who is scared, anxious and lonely, to behave in such a manner.

This is something we understand. The support cell helps by calming the woman down and helping her think through her situation. It helps her understand her rights, options, and how she can get legal help. This helps both the investigators and the victims as complaints are filed after an informed decision.

Police station-based support centers have been institutionalised in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana. “ The police can immediately refer the case for counseling to us, a woman in distress need not run from pillar to post. ,” says Surgaben, a village leader at Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG).

In Gujarat, there are six support centers in six districts facilitated by Oxfam India and its partners Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG), Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI) and Saurashtra Kutch Network against Violence Against Women (SKVAW). While the support cells in Kutch (Rapar), Patan and Banaskantha (at Disa) are run by AWAG, the one at Panchamahal (Godhara) is facilitated by ANANDI and the one at Rajkot by SKVAW.

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