The Delhi government has issued a standard operating procedure for the protection of inter-caste and interfaith couples from threats and harassment, reported PTI on Sunday.

The government will provide accommodation in safe houses to couples whose families or local leaders are opposing their marriage, according to the SOP. The existing 181 helpline number for women in the national Capital will double up as a helpline for such couples.

“The telecallers trained to handle distress calls and already aware about available services can provide necessary assistance/advice to the couple in distress,” the guidelines said. “If required, they can be further trained to handle such calls.”

It said that the deputy commissioner of police of the area concerned, who will also head a “special cell” on the matter, will inform the district magistrate about the threats and convey the requirement of the couples for staying in safe house. After conducting an enquiry to verify the authenticity of the threats, the deputy commissioner of police concerned will direct an assistant commissioner of police or a sub-division police officer to register a first information report against those threatening the couples.

“Adequate security shall be provided to the couple in form of PSO [protective service officer] and the ‘safe house’ will also be secured by the DCP of the area concerned,” the SOP said.

It said that the interfaith and inter-caste couples will be briefed about the situation and not be exposed till the matter is resolved, reported The Indian Express. However, it is not mandatory for couples to stay at safe houses. “In case the couple does not want to stay in such safe houses, the special cell shall provide protection to them, as per the threat perception, at place of stay,” the SOP said.

A safe house in this regard has been set up in North Delhi, which can accommodate three couples seeking help. Another safe house is being set up at the same location.

Earlier this week, violence had erupted at Harijan Basti in the national Capital over an interfaith marriage. The police had arrested several persons for their alleged involvement in the incident.

In 2018, the Supreme Court had passed an order to protect couples choosing interfaith or inter-caste marriages on a plea by non-governmental organisation Shakti Vahini. At the hearing, the Centre had told the court that all states will set up special units to protect couples who marry outside their castes.

The court had warned that it would step in if the Centre failed to take strong steps to stop interference by the village councils.