New helpline to fight domestic violence

People can contact the National Commission for Women over WhatsApp during the lockdown

The National Commission for Women (NCW) on Friday launched a helpline number — 0721-7735372 — to enable those facing domestic violence to send a WhatsApp message to access help.

“Many women don’t know how to send an e-mail, whereas WhatsApp is easy to use. That is why we decided to launch this initiative,” NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma told The Hindu. However, she added that that the helpline was only a temporary facility being made available for the period of the lockdown.

In the first week after the lockdown, the NCW recorded more than a two-fold increase in complaints of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as as a three-fold rise in complaints of police apathy towards crimes against women.

The move comes days after Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani held a web-conference with more than 1,000 participants from various institutions linked to her Ministry on the issue of women’s safety. The Minister sought to convey the message that the government was working for women in need of protection.

Digital governance

She urged her staff to take steps to encourage reporting of violence against women as well as use digital governance effectively to ensure their safety.

Ms. Sharma explained that when a person sends a message on the number seeking help, the NCW’s complaints and legal cell will contact her and seek specific details about the intervention she requires. Following this, she will be linked with the local police team or a counsellor from a local NGO or a medical facility or relocated to a One Stop Centre temporarily.

The messaging facility will also help those women who cannot make a call because they may be overheard by the perpetrators of abuse.

The NCW has compiled a State-wise list of One Stop Centres as well as nodal police officers who can be contacted immediately. It is also working on building a network of counsellors and has sought UN Women’s help on this.

When asked how the NCW plans to popularise the new helpline, Ms. Sharma said it would use social media, news media, radio and NGOs to spread the word.

On why the NCW did not opt for an easier number to recall as a helpline, Ms. Sharma said, “To set up the facility in a short span, we are merely using a spare personal number we had with us, which will be discontinued after the lockdown. It is also difficult to get a new number because of the restrictions imposed.”

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