Last weekend, Saritha’s domestic help Nayana told her she was in trouble. She had approached the police, intimating them about the abuse she was facing at the hands of her family, and feared to return home. She appeared at Saritha’s house with her two children — a three-year old, and a nine-day-old infant.
Ms. Saritha and her husband began scouting for a safe home for Ms. Nayana and her children. What they encountered left them disappointed and angry.
“We could not keep them at our house because her family knew where she worked. We tried calling helpline numbers and homes for women. Many of them asked us to call back on Monday as it was a Saturday. What are those in distress supposed to do for two days?” said Ms. Saritha.
They then went to an NGO that provides shelter for women in distress in the same area, but workers asked Ms. Nayana for identity proof and her Aadhaar card. “She is not from India. How can she have an Aadhaar card? In any case, if a woman has left home abruptly, or sent away, would she be carrying an ID proof?” Ms. Saritha said.
The couple finally admitted Ms. Nayana at a women’s shelter in the city, at least 10 km away from their house. But the procedure to admit women in distress has raised some questions.
What the guidelines say
The admission policy under Swadhar Greh, a scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development that caters to the primary needs of women in difficult circumstances, instructs the selected organisations to check the woman’s social background. There are around 12 centres in Bengaluru.
“When women come to Swadhar Greh either on their own or are referred by others, the first step will be to know their social background, the cause of their distress, and the problem of adjustment. If on diagnosis, it is found that facilities provided at the Swadhar Greh are suited to meet the needs of the victim, the applicant may be admitted and provided services for rehabilitation. On arrival, she should be registered in the admission register with details such as name, address, age, details of children (if any), description of the problem, and source of reference,” the guidelines state.
Instead, some Swadhar Grehs ask victims for ID cards. Several NGOs, too, tend to follow this rule. When The Hindu checked with the NGO that Ms. Nayana was taken to first, the staff member said it was imperative to have some ID proof for admission.
The NGO that finally admitted her said that in cases of distress, such as in Ms. Nayana’s case, providing shelter was the first requirement. “She was with two small children. Our counsellors took a call to first take her in and then study her case. But the rules require us to ask for ID proof,” said Shankar, the manager of the ashram.
When asked why, he said it was to ensure only “genuine cases” are admitted. “Sometimes, for example, women who are engaged in activities such as prostitution are brought in,” he said.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development mentions that “trafficked women/ girls rescued or runaway from brothels or other places where they face exploitation”, with the rider that such women “should first seek assistance under Ujjawala Scheme in areas where it is in operation”.
Prashantha Jois, founder-secretary, Prerana Resource Centre, one of the 12 centres listed by the Ministry, maintained that no ID proof or documents were required during admission. “There is nothing of this sort mentioned in the rules. What we have to do is report such an admission to the police as soon as possible,” she said. “Women who have been rescued from prostitution should be rehabilitated, even according to the rules,” she added.
Rani Shetty, coordinator of Parihar — the umbrella organisation that houses Vanitha Sahayavani (women’s helpline and counselling centre) and Makkala Sahayavani (child helpline), said that women in need of help who approach Parihar are regularly sent to Swadhar Greh. “They have not been asked for any documentation. However, if someone is faced with such issues, they can contact us and we will intervene,” she said.
Ms. Shetty also admitted that counsellors are given weekly offs on Sundays. “But the police control room can be contacted and they always take action immediately,” she said.
Reacting to the issue, the office of Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, clarified to The Hindu that the rules for Swadhar Grehs did not require any form of identity proof from women who approach them.
“Going by the condition in which a woman comes to Swadhar Grehs, expecting a proof of identity should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. They are sometimes beaten, abandoned,” said an official, and added that they cannot deny admission to women who have been rescued from prostitution either.
K.S. Vimala, State vice-president, All-India Democratic Women’s Association, said it was “anti-woman and inhuman” for institutions working for women to insist on documents at the time of distress. “Helplines should also work through the week. Having said that, the government should ensure that they are adequately staffed, as their work is mentally and emotionally taxing,” she added.
(Names of Saritha, Nayana, and Shankar have been changed on request.)