Since time immemorial, the situation of women has been in an abysmal condition. The sole cause for such a detrimental state of affairs of women is the existence of the Patriarchal system. Due to various factors of prejudices, women have not been fully liberated in all spheres; but freedom came to their doors at the expense of systematic violence from society. Even years after the Three Waves of Feminism phase being introduced, Modernisation and Globalisation seeping into economies, not much development can be observed.
Women continue to face oppressive and abusive behaviour, be it in the physical, psychological, verbal, or any form; both at private and public places. India is one such country where patriarchal values still seem to be deeply embedded in society. Post the Independence of India in 1947, although reforms were introduced with constitutionally recognized and guaranteed rights for women, the situation has only gotten worse for them. In response to this, many initiatives have been taken by the governments in the past to improve the conditions of women in India; and one such initiative was the introduction of One-Stop Centres for women which were introduced by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2015.
Anatomy of the One-Stop Centres
Popularly known as Sakhi, the One-Stop Centre scheme was implemented by the Centre on April 1, 2015. There are 234 centres established as of now, with more coming up. These centres are aimed at rendering help to women victims of abuse, in a phased manner. It also focused on providing support, remedy, and specialized services to women of abuse irrespective of their age, class, caste, education status, marital status, race, and culture. There are three ways to approach the One-Stop Centres:
- Accessible by a woman herself;
- A woman can access through any person including any public-spirited citizen, public servant (as defined under section 21 of Indian Penal Code, 1860), relative, friend, NGO, volunteer, etc.
- Apart from this, OSC can be accessed through a women helpline integrated with police, ambulance, and other emergency response helplines.
To establish a centre, it was decided that the first preference would be given to a place where suitable and adequate accommodation with separate access having at least 5 rooms and carpet area of 132 sq. meter, within a hospital or medical facility, that is prominent and easily accessible to the women affected by violence. In furtherance of this, the staff quarters within or outside the premises of the hospital could also be used. If such accommodation is unavailable in a hospital or medical facility, then an existing Government/Semi-Government institutions/ Women Institutions/Swadhar Grehs/Working Women Hostels, which are located within 2 km radius of that hospital or medical facility in the district headquarter; having adequate accommodation with separate access may be preferred for operating the Centre.
It was also decided that if either of the above two options isn’t available, then a centre might be constructed after assessing the situation, within 300 sq. meter of the premises of the hospital/medical facility. Temporary centres might also be constructed, if required, with adequate facilities being provided.
Services offered by the One-Stop Centres
There are seven types of facilities that are widely catered by these One Stop Centres, at least said to be so – Emergency response and rescue services, Assistance to Women in filing FIR/NCR/DIR, Medical assistance, Psycho-social support/counselling, legal aid and counselling, temporary shelter facilities, and video calling facilities for the victims.
- The Centre Administrator is a woman with requisite qualifications available at OSC. She is a residential staff attached to OSC, who is in charge of the functioning of OSC. She is the first point of contact with the woman who is accessing OSC for seeking help from abuse. She interacts with every victim to address their issues of violence; listens to the grievances, documents the case history, and registers the case in the online/web-based case management system to generate a Unique Identity Number (UID) for the victims. She is responsible for the supervision of each case, taking it to a logical conclusion and later following up with the aggrieved woman. Following the registration of complaint, the Centre Administrator sends a text message (SMS/Internet) to the DPO/PO/CDPO/ SHO/ DM/ SP/ DYSP/CMO of the district in which the women victim is located at the time of accessing OSC. Moreover, she is responsible for coordination with all stakeholders (police station, hospital, legal aid, counselling), registration of cases in the absence of the IT Staff.
- The Caseworkers assist the Centre Administrator. She is also a woman officer. She is responsible for dealing with VAW and coming to logical conclusions following from it.
- The Police Facilitation officer helps in the facilitation of filing of cases by the victims like lodging FIRS, etc. In case a police officer has denied a victim from filing an FIR, etc., the Police facilitation officer would help the victim to initiate proceedings relating to the commission of offences punishable u/s 326A, 326B, 354, 354B, 370, 370A, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D, 376E or 509 IPC, he/she will initiate proceedings under section 166A IPC against the accused police officials.
In addition to these aforementioned officers, there are several other important personalities like Paralegal officers/ Lawyers, Medical officers, IT staff, and Security Guards who are entrusted with the work to look after the victims.
Effective Operation of the One Stop Centres
Although the One Stop Centres have been set up in large numbers, and many are yet in the process of being constructed; there seems to be a lack of maintenance of the entire system. Some of the important flaws that are yet to work upon are- the 181 helpline number has not been integrated with the district centres properly; The Women’s Helpline (WHL) and OSCs were designed to operate in an integrated manner, meaning only one case file would be created for one case, and the same will be shared by WHL and OSC.
That file is also to be available on the web for intervention and monitoring. There is no Management Integration System between the WHL & OSCs; further, the Raipur model proposed for certain feasible means of accessibility for women throughout India which has not been implemented.
The Sakhi dashboard registers the current cases, but it has been to be just out of formality; due to the lack of a web-based model for dealing with cases and information transformation, there has been a backlog in the free-flow of services for victims.
It is indeed important for the Central as well as State Governments to work on the model of OSC for women and help in propelling its fangs of ‘access to justice’ to all the victims of abuse.