Kerala launches Nirbhaya for security of women, children

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Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men?
— Joseph Conrad

Adding a new chapter to the raging debate of ensuring the safety of women and children in the highly literate society of Kerala, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, launched the pathbreaking ‘Nirbhaya’, in Kochi on Sunday.

The unique venture is an initiative of the state government, to guarantee security for women and children.

The policy recommendations for Nirbhaya, formulated by a five-member expert committee chaired by Sugathakumari, have now been approved by the cabinet.

Former director of public instruction Lida Jacob, bureaucrat Sarada Muraleedharan, danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai and Sunitha Krishnan, director of Prajwala, an NGO, are the other committee members.

Through the innovative scheme, the government aims at making the state women-friendly where women can safely travel even at midnight.

The chief minister has gone on record saying that special fast track courts would be set up for the early disposal of sexual harassment cases and other cases involving violence against women.

“The suggestion has already been sent to the Chief Justice for consideration. Further steps will be taken after getting the opinion of the Chief Justice,” Oommen Chandy said.

Nirbhaya (fearless) mainly focuses on a three-point agenda - prevention, prosecution and protection. This comprehensive policy and action plan with multi-stakeholder convergence will also cover legal reforms and the creation of a corpus fund for rehabilitation and relief.

In prevention, major areas of intervention lie in sensitising society, empowering vulnerable groups, targeting contributing factors such as alcoholism, gender discrimination and consumerism.

The scheme also aims at providing proper rehabilitation facilities to help the victim to heal, recover, empower and reintegrate back into society.

Prosecution is another area of intervention where strong laws have to be formulated to ensure rigorous punishment for the culprits which will be a deterrent for such criminals.

The policy focuses on child abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, which constitute the worst forms of sexual violence in the state.

“Increasing cases of atrocities against women and children is a danger signal which needs to be rectified. Media reports on increased violence against women are shocking which reveal that women and minor girls are not safe even in their homes and educational institutions,” the chief minister said.

The scheme is being jointly implemented by various government departments like social welfare, SC/ST, police, health, labour, and local self government in coordination with NGOs.

As part of the initiative, five rehabilitation centres will be set up at various places of the state which will provide facilities for education and employment to the victims.

The government will also provide a specific budget provision for the implementation of the policy recommendations of Nirbhaya.

As per the new scheme, local bodies, Jagratha Samithis and Kudumbasree will be at the core of grassroots interventions related to prevention, identification and rescue as well as rehabilitation of cases of sexual violence and sex trafficking.

Jagratha Samithis, under the Kerala Women’s Commission, at panchayat/local self government level will be the core committees for implementing the Nirbhaya programme.

In addition, there will be district Nirbhaya committees and a state level coordination committee which will closely review the status of the programme and monitor the functioning of local bodies, departments and institutions.

An anti-trafficking squad will be constituted which will establish contact centres at transit points like bus stands, railway stations and airports.

Toll-free helpline numbers and help booths under the jurisdiction of each police station will be set up to assist the victims in getting immediate help.

The squad will protect the victim from media exposure and will ensure that the victim gets access to immediate trauma care, medical care and protection within the minimum possible time.

During the inaugural function, the toll-free helpline number was launched by Mallika Sarabhai. Minister for excise and ports K. Babu inaugurated the Nirbhaya shelter homes.

Major recommendations of Nirbhaya

* Set up designated fast-track court
* Establish special home to rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking
* Anti-trafficking squads
* Toll -free helpline numbers and helpline booths
* Campaigns against gender discrimination, alcoholism
* Set up community vigilant groups in high-risk areas
* Train teachers
* Provide help desk in schools
* Crime mapping
* Strengthen school counselling support

Crime against Women in the last four years

Type of crime 2008 2009 2010 2011 (till June)
Rape 568 568 634 546
Kidnapping & abduction 253 256 261 137
Dowry Deaths 31 20 22 6
Molestation 2745 2540 2936 1820
Sexual harassment 258 395 537 350
Cruelty by husband or relatives 4138 4007 4797 2679

What they feel about NirBhaya

A landmark initiative, it is mainly targeted at young rape victims. Everything including setting up of fast-track courts, shelter homes, residential schools, vocational training centres will ensure that the victims return to normal life. It’ll overcome the shortcomings of the Women’s Commission which has only recommendatory powers.

— Sugathakumari, Chairperson, policy-making committee, Nirbhaya

It’s a good initiative. The last govt had also initiated steps to make the officers of police circle inspectors women friendly so that they could lodge complaints freely. However the Oommen Chandy govt has not been able to fulfill any of its promise in the past one year which leaves a question mark on the initiative.

— P.K. Sreemathy, Former minister and CPI(M) leader

The scheme is good but how far it would be successful is a big question. V. S. Achuthanandan too had made loud proclamations that women will become safe once he became the Chief Minister, but nothing happened. Women are not safe from womb to the streets even now. So the govt has to ensure the scheme becomes a success.

— Shwetha Vipin, GS, St Teresa’s College, Ernakulam, students union.

I am glad that such an initiative has been made. But the govt has to ensure the practical implementation of the scheme.

The involvement of people like Mallika Sarabhai and Sunitha Krishnan gives credibility to the initiative. The thrust of the move should be to empower women rather than protecting her.

— Anjali Menon, Script-Writer,
Director

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