Police fail to respond to distress calls; helpline faces glitches too

The women’s helpline number, 1091, launched here with much fanfare on Thursday, seems to be facing technical glitches and Home Minister R. Ashok’s hard sell about police rushing to rescue women in distress rings hollow.

When The Hindu team visited some of the crowded places in the city over two days and spotted instances of sexual harassment, it called the helpline number, which invariably remained busy for more than 15 minutes. Moreover, the police did not turn up at the spot for even half an hour after the complaint was finally made.

‘Call 100 instead’

When a call was made to the helpline about a girl being harassed by a few youths near Vasanthnagar, the voice at the other end assured that the police would reach the spot in 10 minutes. However, nobody turned up even after an hour. A reporter who apprised a policeman in the area was told: “Don’t call the helpline; call 100 instead. The helpline is still new.”

Another team, which visited the Shivajinagar bus-stop, spotted two men on a two-wheeler passing lewd comments on girls who passed by. The helpline said a Hoysala patrol would arrive in 10 minutes. The 10 minutes extended to 30 before the team left in disgust.

Callers’ complaints

A person at the helpline claimed the helpline had received a “good response” as they got over 1,000 calls on Friday. However, she also admitted to technical problems and said there were only two lines for the helpline number. She said: “We are getting complaints from callers that calls from only BSNL (landline and mobile phones) are getting through. But we have been getting calls from other service providers also. We will streamline the process in a week. Although the papers clearly state that the helpline is only for women in Bangalore, we have been getting calls from several districts such as Koppal and Bidar as well.”

When asked for the nature of the complaints, she said: “We have been getting calls for dowry harassment. A schoolgirl also called to inform that there were men who were following her. We have asked them to call us the moment they face trouble.”

She added that a majority of the callers had called to check if the helpline was functional. Interestingly, the helpline has also received calls from men. “One man called us to tell us to do something for men as well and alleged that he was harassed by a woman!”

Shocked at the lukewarm response received from the helpline, some women spoke about the need to streamline the protocol, pointing out some pockets in the city were unsafe for women.

Sahana Domic, a management student at Mount Carmel College, said: “Last week a group of boys groped one of my friends on Vasanthnagar main road at noon. This area is certainly not safe.”

Another student said it was ridiculous that the helpline could be reached only from a BSNL landline or a mobile number.

‘We’ll sort it out’

Responding to this, Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) T. Suneel Kumar said the technical problems would be rectified. “As the helpline was launched only on Thursday, we need to sort things out.”

Asked why the police did not reach the spot after the complaints were made at the helpline, he said the police would “upgrade the process.”