All three toll-free numbers for women out of order

The chances of women in distress getting on-the-spot assistance from the police helpline numbers seemed to be dim in the capital if the recent experience of a social activist is anything to go by.

At 10.10 a.m. on Wednesday, J. Sandhya of the Human Rights Law Network repeatedly called all the three toll-free helpline numbers for women (9995 399953, 1091, and 0471-233 9953) to help a victim of domestic violence. The numbers were out of order. She called the police control room, which rushed a patrol to the location.

Social activists Aleyamma Vijayan and Rejitha, both prominent members of Sakhi, a resource centre for women, said the lack of functioning of such a crucial public service delivery facility was a matter of import as far as the safety of urban women were concerned.

Both had recently conducted a survey-based study on how safe the capital was for its women residents. They had interviewed a wide cross section of women at public places at different hours of the day.

They said that 98 per cent of the respondents identified sexual harassment in public transport buses, bus stops, and roadsides as the main safety problem they faced. As many as 51 per cent feared potential chain-snatchers (mostly helmeted youth travelling on motorbikes).

Verbal abuse was the most common form of sexual harassment (80 per cent), followed by physical harassment (60 per cent), stalking (26 per cent), and exhibitionism (21 per cent).

The survey also revealed that only 7 per cent of the victims sought police intervention and it was mostly witnesses who informed the law-enforcement. It also noted that 77 per cent of women were loath to approach the police. As many as 38 percent of the respondents felt approaching the police was ‘too tedious.’ The fallout was that women felt insecure when they accessed a wide range of municipal facilities.

The police said domestic violence, obscene calls from anonymous persons, sexual harassment at public places, alcohol-fuelled male violence against women, and dowry harassment topped the list of complaints received at women helplines in the State.

Most such helplines lacked infrastructure, such as police teams and vehicles for quick response, and the phones were dead most of the time due to delay in paying bills. The police personnel attached to such facilities lacked proper training and were not supported by doctors or counsellors.

City Police Commissioner P. Vijayan said he had tried the helpline numbers on his own on Friday and found the complaint of the social activist to be true. He said the issue would be addressed and such helplines would be integrated with the Police Control Room for more rapid police response.