UP’s 1090 women’s helpline heading for closure?

Lucknow, April 11 (IANS) Is the much-hyped 1090 women’s helpline, meant to check obscene calls, SMSes and MMSes, set for closure a year after being launched by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav? It would seem so, given the bureaucratic apathy to the project.

More than 50 percent calls made by women in distress go unattended due to dearth of facilities, enquiries have revealed.

The scheme was appreciated by many, including film actor Aamir Khan, who visited the helpline office last year and lauded the concept and the functioning of the cell.

In its second phase, the helpline was supposed to deal with all internet-related harassment, including posting of fake profiles on social networking sites.

Sources in the helpline told IANS that in the past two months, the helpline has not been able to attend to anywhere between 52 to 55 per cent of the calls it receives largely owing to the lack of physical space and manpower.

“We do not have the space to expand despite the fact that a lot of rooms are available at the place we operate from,” said a woman police officer, ruing that many women in distress must be disappointed as they “are not able to get across to us”.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Naveneet Sikera, the officer heading the helpline, has written many letters to the state home department on the “urgent need to expand beyond the existing structure” to keep the women helpline functioning but his missives have fallen on deaf years, sources said.

While Sikera refused to comment on the matter, a senior home department official confirmed the “repeated reminders”, adding that the demand for five more rooms at the Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal, from where the helpline functions, was yet to be accepted.

The existing infrastructure, the official pointed out, was now “bursting at the seams” as the initial 20 workstations operating in two shifts have been enhanced to 50 work stations operating in three shifts.

“But this too seems not enough as we are getting many more calls than we can handle in the present set up,” he said.

Officials are now worried that not attending to frantic calls from women across the state could end up sullying the helpline.

“What else can you expect if someone who is calling you regularly gets no feedback or is not even attended to,” a police officer asked.

The present state of the helpline is in sharp contrast to the assurance of Akhilesh Yadav, who while launching the scheme on the Bhaiyya Dyuj festival last year, had directed police officers to “ensure that the motive behind the helpline was met and that no technical snag affected its functioning”.

Billed as Akhilesh bhaiyya’s gift to his sisters in distress, the helpline became a rage in the first few months as it logged over 200,000 calls.

While a majority of the calls were attended to at the initial level of counselling when specially trained women police officers told the callers not to make obscene calls, in some cases the culprits were arrested.

Most women organisations and individuals had given the thumbs up to the project. A ‘digital cage’ was built for the offenders as once the helpline officials confirmed that the offender was not paying heed to counselling, the police would ensure that the offender was not able to get a character certificate, passport or driving licence.

The third phase would have involved dealing with cases of harassment in public places when the helpline was also to be connected to Google maps so that the police could flag areas from where cases of sexual harassment were reported.

But with the state government officials cold-shouldering the requirements of the project and Akhilesh Yadav busy with other better things, a giant leap towards stopping harassment of women seems in for an early sunset.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted @ [email protected])

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