The Social Welfare Department informed the Madras High Court that its one-stop centres, spread across the State, handled as many as 65 cases related to women in distress ever since the Centre clamped a nationwide lockdown, from March 25, to fight COVID-19.
In a counter affidavit filed before Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and M. Nirmal Kumar, the Social Welfare Secretary S. Madhumathi said, her department had hired vehicles to rescue the women in distress, rendered counselling to them and referred the issues to the police. The issues were also referred to the Protection Officers under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 in addition to being monitored by the District Social Welfare Officers, the Secretary told the court.
The counter was filed in response to a PIL petition filed by advocate Sudha Ramalingam complaining about most of the Protection Officers in the State being inaccessible and not having transport facilities to rescue victims. The litigation was necessitated due to increase in domestic violence during lockdown. Responding to it, the Secretary said, one stop centres were functioning round the clock in all district headquarter hospitals to provide shelter, medical aid, counselling and legal support to women in distress.
Protection Officers across the State had rendered their services to as many as 92 women victims of domestic violence. Most of them had requested only to warn their abusers besides providing counselling and were not interested in seeking legal remedy, the official said.
“The POs do follow up with the victims through frequent calls to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of the distressed,” the Secretary said and added that the police department too had been working in coordination with the social welfare department on the issue.
It was also reported to the court that an updated list of the landline as well as mobile phone numbers of the Protection Officers across the State had been uploaded on the government website. Further, Anganwadi workers too had been roped in to protect women from domestic violence.
They had been provided with smartphones and told to escalate instances of domestic violence to their higher officials. Further, the police department too had set up tele counselling centres to render counselling to women and children, the counter affidavit read.