The December 2012 Delhi gang rape case shook India. The brutal beating, rape, assault and torture of a 23 year old girl on a bus send shock and anger through the country. Delayed justice and help have arisen in the form of One Stop Crisis Centres or Nirbhaya Centres in India.
The victim widely became known as ‘Nirbhaya’ (Braveheart) and her case was the leading cause of a social awakening. People were angry at the horrific crimes and the trauma a girl has to undergo. The country erupted and justice was demanded by sentencing the criminals to the harshest punishment. It also highlighted the dismal situation of Indian care for victims and the resources our judiciary has in place. There was no system or law to handle assaults and gore of such kind. While Nirbhaya succumbed due to the nature of her injuries, many rape victims survive and their life is never the same. They need physical, emotional and mental therapy, help and counseling. It was essential to provide physical and emotional counseling to patients after such a life shattering incident. It was time to look at the aftermath of the gruesome event of rape.
Victims of sexual assault are further tormented by having to visit the police station, undergo a rape kit test and questions from the authorities. No police officer is ever given any sensitivity training to handle such cases. There is no protocol in place that demands a female officer be the one to question a rape victim considering her present mental state. In 1994, the Supreme Court mandated that rape victims should be offered legal assistance at police stations. Lawyers were required to register with police stations and inform they are willing to handle rape cases. No such efforts are ever undertaken by the authorities or police officer. A good lawyer can be key for the outcome of a rape case.
The Nirbhaya case allowed a fund for launching One Stop Crisis Centres or Nirbhaya centres as they are popularly known. Every state should have a One Stop Crisis Centre (OSC). Budgetary restrictions meant only 36 One Stop Crisis Centers could be established on a trial and error basis. While this is much less than the required number, it is a start in the right direction. These centers became places where mental, legal, counseling services were offered along with police assistance. It was designed as a safe haven for rape victims, for them to go and have someone to talk to. Licensed therapists, activists, lawyers and counselors are assigned to these centers for the aid of victims and patients. The first Nirbhaya Centre or One Stop Crisis Centre came up in Raipur, Chattishgarh. Understanding the kind of patients they handle, the Centres are equipped to have 24 hour helpline for emergency calls and victims.
While the idea is great, the execution is highly flawed. All One Stop Crisis Centres can only handle 5 patients or victims at one time. The size of the district or its percentage of sexual violence is irrelevant. The capacity of these One Stop Crisis Centers must increase to allow more women to come forward and seek the help they so desperately need. They also face staff shortages and are in constant need of more qualified personnel. If victims can’t access the right kind of help, what is the point of even coming to these centres? There is hardly any awareness in the media or society about the One Stop Crisis Centers. Any patient or victim who visits one is usually brought there by the police.
According to the Government, 151 centres have been set up across India. No reports or studies have specified how many centres are fully operational or functional or even have the basic staff. There is no accountability and these Centers can’t do much except handle whatever they can with whatever resources they have. It is time the Indian Government sits up and takes concrete steps to equip these much needed Centres.