Women’s helpline is helpless in Tamil Nadu, and has few takers

At a time when the nation is on the boil over rising crimes against women, especially brutal rapes, Tamil Nadu is grappling with infrastructure and staff crunch issues for its women’s helpline 181, the primary safety option for women at risk.

A source from the Department of Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme, Tamil Nadu, told The Federal that the helpline needs a huge fillip.

At the moment, the helpline is fraught with issues like high attrition rate among the staff and limited infrastructure in terms of space and phone connections, besides calls getting dropped often.

The helpline, launched in December 2018 with a budget of ₹51.51 lakh, began operations with a 12-member staff, but its strength fell to six women, who now man the facility 24×7 on three shifts.

But there is hope that this will all change.

“We will be receiving ₹12.6 crore allotted as part of Nirbhaya Funds which can be used for strengthening the woman helpline,” the source from the department says, adding that they are planning to completely scale up.

Harassment, violence most reported

The helpline has received most calls for harassment and violence, indicating that it is the most frequently reported issue.

Also read | Terrible Thursday, three rape and murder cases rock southern states

Out of the 10,000-odd calls made to the helpline since its launch, 2,144 were in this category. Relationship and marriage problems came second with 1,676 calls and crime-related incidents triggered 1,259 calls. The rest were made for rescues and emergencies, child-related crimes, legal disputes and schemes-related calls.

The source points out that operating alongside 108, the state health helpline, will be a more viable option.

Police app not popular

On the other hand, the state police’s Kavalan SOS app which was launched last year by the state police too has found few takers due to lack of awareness, according to police sources.

The app which is available on both Android and iPhone platforms has a paltry three lakh users, says Prem Anand Sinha, additional commissioner of police, Chennai (South).

“We see a similar pattern on social networking sites like Twitter, where we (police accounts or pages) have very few followers as compared to the police force in other states,” he says.

The Kavalan SOS app guarantees police response within five minutes as soon the SOS button in it is pressed, which also activates the camera and microphone in the user’s phone.

The app sends a few seconds of the video and audio recording after activating the GPS automatically. “The recordings, which are sent to the control room, can be of help during investigations,” the officers explain.

Sinha, however, admits that a lot has to be done to create more awareness. “There is a lot of reluctance too on the part of the public when it comes to using technology. We are looking at launching a huge campaign to ensure that women download the app by directing the campaign at educational institutions, IT industry and workplaces where women are employed in huge numbers, apart from women’s hostels.”

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