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The Rediff Interview/Mumbai Sheriff Indu Shahani
'The girl child needs to be educated about her rights'
March 05, 2008
Mumbai Sheriff Indu Shahani has started an initiative called the women's helpline to help women who are facing violence or sexual harassment. Rediffmail has joined this initiative with its own special e-mail address email@example.com, where people who are harassed can get in touch with authorities and non-governmental support organisations.
Backed by the overwhelming response to the social campaign 'Ek Rediffmail Bhej Ke Tou Dekho' to fight against eve teasing, Bhumi and various other leading NGOs in association with rediff.com, will host a silent candle light vigil on the eve of Women's Day -- March 7 at 9 pm at the Gateway of India, Mumbai. The mass gathering supported by Shahani, will be held to propagate the message to curb the growing issue of verbal and sexual assaults against women in the city.
The initiative is an extension of rediff.com's commitment to mobilise Internet users to lend their support for the cause of open spaces and eve teasing. In an interview with rediff.com, Shahani spoke about the Rediffmail initiative, issues facing women today and how to address them.
"India has taken great strides in the field of information technology. It is like the BPO of the world. So it is a good to see an IT company like Rediff put technology to good use for a cause like this," Shahani said.
What made you choose to be part of this project?
When I became sheriff of Mumbai on January 5, the New Year incident that happened outside a Mumbai hotel was still fresh in memory and a lot of things were written about it. That thing accelerated the need to do something for women who face harassment or violence. The need to do something about this issue struck me when sometime ago, I got to know that my maid's daughter was being abused by her husband.
We took her for counselling and also put her husband, who would come home drunk and beat her up, in rehab. But initially I did not know what to do about it. I, despite being an educated woman, did not know how or what to do. That was when it dawned on me that something needs to be done. And then the Rediff tie-up happened. Now women who are in distress can either call up 1298, where they will be put through to an NGO, or they can email firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will get a list of NGOs in this project, who they can contact.
How did the 1298 helpline come into being?
After taking over as sheriff, I had said in an interview that we are planning to do something for women who are facing domestic violence. The people at 1298, which runs an emergency medical service, saw that and offered their call centre for our cause. Then Rediffmail came in and offered to do the e-mail part.
What do you hope to achieve through this project?
A lot. In just the first month, we've had some 20-25 calls per day. Of these most were enquiries. We have answered them. Some 60 cases came in that were really serious and needed immediate attention. We have referred these cases to counsellors and NGOs. I have asked these organisations to report to me on a weekly basis on the progress they have made.
In your capacity as the sheriff of Mumbai, what other initiatives have you taken?
This helpline is one thing. The other thing is I am meeting corporates to get them on board and help us set up our own team of counsellors who will be dedicated to this cause. Though they do a good job, there is only so much that NGOs can do. So, having a dedicated bunch of counsellors for us will go a long way in providing a permanent solution to this issue. Creating awareness is the first step.
What more do you think needs to be done to tackle this problem?
I think we need to train counsellors. That is the key. Then, we need to go to schools and colleges and create awareness at that level. We must train them in legal issues and ensure that they are aware of their rights. For example, there is a law called the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005. How many people do you think are aware that such a law exists? These are some of the ways and means by which we can start addressing this issue.
Most cases of violence again women take place at home and they are not even spoken about most of the time. How do you plan to change this?
Things we are doing now is a first and important step towards addressing this issue. Starting the women's helpline, holding candle light vigils like the one we are planning with Rediff are also methods of instilling confidence in women... make them feel they can face and overcome troubles. They do not come out in the open due to fear. Removing that fear is half the battle won. Education is also a key factor. The girl child, especially, needs to be educated. The more people get educated, the more they will know what their rights are. They become more confident and can stand up for themselves. Even men will realise that an educated woman will not take it lying down.
What do you have to say about our law and order machinery? Is it fit and sensitive enough to handle this issue?
Not to say that they are doing a bad job, but they also need to be counselled and made aware of the issue. But in a city like Mumbai, I think citizens can play a more active part than the police. What can the police force do in a city of Mumbai's population? Here is where the media has to step in and help in spreading awareness among the public. That in itself is a form of education.
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