sexual violence

One-stop centres for rape survivors in India are now resolving marital disputes

Created in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gangrape, the Nirbhaya Fund remains underused and the centres lack resources.

“Rape victims don’t really come here,” a woman counsellor from the non-governmental organisation tasked with running the one stop centre in Jaipur said. “They go to the hospital that is connected to the police station where they registered a FIR [First Information Report].”

The one stop centre in Jaipur, named Aparajita, is supposed to be a place where integrated services – police assistance, legal aid, and medical and counseling services – are made available to female victims of violence. These centres were prioritised under the Nirbhaya Fund set up by the central government in 2013, after the public protests following the gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi in 2012, and long-held demands by women’s rights groups.

If they were properly functioning, these centres could fill a critical need for support services for survivors of rape and other forms of violence against women and girls in India. They can also serve as an educational resource for healthcare workers, police, lawyers, and judges.

But in cases of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, Human Rights Watch’s investigation into 21 cases found that women and girls currently struggle, both before and after filing criminal complaints, to access medical help, legal aid, and psychosocial counseling.

‘A failed project’

The Aparajita centre was set up in 2013 as one of the pilot projects before the One Stop Centre Scheme was developed by the central government through the Nirbhaya Fund. However, currently, this centre is doing little to provide integrated services to women survivors of rape and sexual assault because the criminal justice system has yet to consolidate procedures for victim assistance. “If a rape victim comes here, we help her to file the FIR in the related police station,” the counsellor said. “But for her medical exam, she has to go to the related hospital because a magistrate will only accept that.”

A doctor at Jaipuria hospital, where the centre is situated, was scathing about the inconvenient bureaucratic requirements. “It’s a failed project,” he said. “The concept was that police investigations, medical, and legal help, all would be provided in one place. But if the victim has to go back to the police station which has the territorial jurisdiction, what’s the point of the one stop crisis centre?” He said the centre was mostly being used to resolve marital disputes.

The Aparajita centre functions out of the compound of Jaipuria hospital. Photo credit: Jayshree Bajoria
The Aparajita centre functions out of the compound of Jaipuria hospital. Photo credit: Jayshree Bajoria

Lack of trained counsellors, little access to legal aid, and a failure to link these centres with helplines reduces their effectiveness – and ultimately does not serve victims. There is little public awareness regarding the centers, too. “Walk-in patients in our one stop centers are very few. Not much awareness. [Survivors] are mostly brought by police,” said Puneeta Mahajan, medical superintendent at the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital in Delhi, which also operates a one stop centre under the Delhi government scheme.

In Hisar, Haryana, a temporary one stop centre is located inside the women’s police station while state government authorities await a properly funded and adequately staffed unit within the court complex. The woman who took charge of this centre two months ago said she did not have any capacity: “The truth is we can’t follow up on these cases because we have no resources. We are asked to speak with the victims and help them but we don’t have expert psychologists.”

In 2013, the central government established the Nirbhaya Fund for schemes aimed at prevention, protection and rehabilitation of women allocating Rs 3,000 crore from 2013 to 2017. Three years later, most of the funds allotted for this remained unused. In May 2016, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the central and all state governments seeking an explanation why the funds had not been spent.

A 2017 report by the Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability and non-governmental organisation Jagori also found that an important scheme, the Financial Assistance and Support Services to Victims of Rape: A Scheme for Restorative Justice, was not implemented despite funds being allocated for it. The scheme was eventually discontinued in 2015-’16.

The one stop centre in Hisar functions out of a police station. Photo credit: Jayshree Bajoria
The one stop centre in Hisar functions out of a police station. Photo credit: Jayshree Bajoria

Delays in providing compensation

As part of the fund, the government set up a central victim compensation fund in 2015 under which a rape victim should receive a minimum of Rs 3 lakh. However, every state has its own compensation scheme, each providing a different amount in compensation to sexual violence survivors. The system is inefficient and survivors wait a long time or are unable to access the scheme.

Out of 17 cases of rape documented by Human Rights Watch, only three survivors had received compensation.

“If the scheme remains on paper, what is the point of it?” said Chitra Joshi, the head of Dilaasa, a crisis centre for women in Mumbai.

Lack of access to effective legal aid

Accessing effective legal aid is a particular challenge for sexual assault survivors, especially those from poor and marginalised communities. In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that rape victims should be provided legal assistance at police stations. The court also ordered all police stations to keep a list of advocates willing to provide legal assistance in such cases where survivors do not have a lawyer. However, it is rare that police stations provide information regarding legal aid or compensation to the complainant. None of the women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed reported receiving any referrals for legal assistance after approaching the police.

The trial process can be particularly hard for survivors, who might end up having to confront the perpetrator, or be cross-examined by defense lawyers. They need legal aid to understand courtroom procedures, especially because public prosecutors are often overburdened, do not have time to brief victims, or be properly prepared for court.

It is key that legal aid lawyers are adequately trained and sensitised, so that they properly inform victims about their right to compensation, and set aside personal prejudice.

The remarks of a lawyer with District Legal Services Authority in Haryana show the mindset of some members of the legal profession. She told Human Rights Watch, “Women are misusing these anti-rape laws a lot. Eighty percent of rape cases are false. The victim comes to the police station either because they want money or there was some other dispute. Even when it is real rape, the women themselves are responsible for these circumstances. Why doesn’t anyone rape us?”

No accountability

While the government announces statistics on new services, it also needs to urgently establish a regular monitoring mechanism. For instance, while the government said it had set up 151 one stop centers across the country and that it allocated Rs 200 crore to the Central Victim Compensation Fund to supplement existing state victim compensation schemes, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. They don’t say how many of the one stop centres are actually functioning, how well they are functioning, or whether the victims are receiving compensation.

Five years after the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey shocked India into finally breaking the silence around sexual violence and forcing reforms, much has been achieved at the policy level. But none of this will work unless the promised services actually help those who need them most – the survivors of sexual assault.

This is the final in a three-part series looking at barriers to justice, health care, effective legal aid and other support services for sexual assault survivors in India, despite strong laws and policies since the 2012 gang rape and murder in Delhi. Read the other parts here.

Jayshree Bajoria is the author of the Human Rights Watch report, Everyone Blames Me: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India, published on November 8, 2017.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.