In Old Hyderabad’s Petla Burj area stands Modern Government Maternity Hospital. Around noon on a weekday, this TNM reporter went down the ground floor corridor to the room that houses the one-stop ‘Sakhi Centre’.
The door was unmarked except for a number scribbled on it, and while we tried to visit, it was locked.
Just in case it’s open when you need it, this door would connect you to Kavitha, the lone counsellor at the one-stop rape crisis centre at the hospital.
The Sakhi Centres - which were supposed to be built using the Rs 1000 crore Nirbhaya fund - are mandated to help victims of sexual assault and other forms of gender based violence get medical, legal and psycho-social support. The one-stop centres have multiple logistical and human resource stipulations.
But on the ground, not only is the reality far from what’s prescribed on paper, the people who need the centres hardly know about them.
According to a document on the Ministry of Women and Child Development Website, such a centre should be a 132 square metres facility, inside or within a 2 kilometre radius of a hospital or medical facility.
But the actual facilities at the centre: "There are two beds inside the rooms,” Kavitha, the counsellor at Hyderabad’s Sakhi centre, tells TNM over phone.
“Only two staff members work in the centre - one is me, and the other is a legal counsellor. The hospital staff provide the medical aid to the victims who come here for help. There is a shortage of staff for the centre itself," Kavitha explains.
The centre is open for just two to four hours a day, informs Kavitha. She stays there for an hour or two every day, collects the case files and then leaves for the secretariat.
The legal counsellor too follows a similar schedule, she reveals. And while the ‘24-hour centre’, as per the rules, must provide “shelter, police desk, legal, medical and counselling services to victims of violence under one roof integrated with a 24-hour helpline,” there are no police officials posted there, nor is there any other staff to handle a 24-hour helpline, if one exists.
Kavitha says that they only get 3-4 cases in a month, and most are victims of sexual assault. Which is not surprising, considering there’s been hardly any measure to tell people about the facility. While the hospital’s maternity ward has a few posters that say “stop sexual harassment”, neither the hospital nor the Telangana government have done much else to publicise it.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Telangana had recorded 43 cases of rape and 3,608 cases of assault on women ‘with the intent to outrage her modesty’, in 2015.
KRS Laxmi Devi, Joint Director of the Women and Child Welfare Department (WCWD) says that the funds cover just one centre per state. But Telangana has opened 12 such centres in the 10 districts in the state - 2 in Hyderabad, 2 in Rangareddy and one each in the other eight districts, she says, and the state is facing a human resource crunch.
"We don't have enough staff to run the Sakhi centres full time. When women come seeking help, it is usually the hospital staff, who look at other victims of domestic violence, attending to the sexual assault survivors as well. We have managed to get a legal and psycho-social counsellor for each facility though, but they do not stay there full time," Devi tells TNM.
Devi expects things to improve this year, however. “Tata Institute of Social Sciences has been given the responsibility to recruit staff for Sakhi centres. We hope they will come through,” she says.
According to a clarification given by the government on the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund, out of the 186 one-stop centres proposed in 2015, 79 were operational by January. All 186 are expected to be operational by July 2017.