Domestic violence victims seek justice at family counselling centre

 Bengaluru City Police’s family counselling centre, Parihar, has seen an increase in the number of women’s complaints in the last two years. It’s the life saviour of women, especially from lower strata of life, by providing free counselling services.

Reshma Begum, 29, is a security guard at Inox Cinemas in Symphony theatre. She is married to Syed Rahmathulla, 40, a tailor. A victim of domestic violence, she has been suffering sexual abuse for the past 12 years at the hands of an alcoholic husband. As he never supported her in raising the family, she had to be the breadwinner. On June 26, 2014, the situation aggravated when he approached her at her workplace, abused and even assaulted her, which resulted in head injury. Later, she received constant acid attack threats, which made her life a living hell. Her request for divorce from her husband was initially handled by Bangalore City Police Commissioner, after which it was referred to Parihar. Despite five months of warning period to the husband, there was no improvement in their state of affairs. “With the help of Parihar, I just hope to achieve the divorce in a month’s time, without any legal and financial barriers,” she said.

Parihar has seen 13% more complaints related to women and children in the last two years. While 1010 cases were registered in 2013-2014, the number rose to 1140 in 2014-2015. “Earlier, counsellors used to handle both women and children welfare department,” said Sandhya Rani, a family counsellor at Parihar. “But due to increase in the complaints, in June 2015 they recruited a new counsellor to handle children’s cases separately.” Six counsellors deal with clients on a regular basis. To reach more clients, they evenly distribute cases with Spandana Rehabilitation center, in Basawanagudi and Malleswaram area.

Jayalakshmi, 24, is a DTP designer, working in Palace Guttahalli. She suffered a similar fate as Reshma’s, for six years. “My friends didn’t want to get involved in the case, as neighbours were in favour of my husband,” she said. On July 13, she filed an FIR at Vyalikal police station, but was asked to compromise with her husband and retreat. Consequently, she ended up being hospitalized. Finally, her case was addressed by Parihar on August 17, when she called their helpline. “My husband has agreed to a counselling session tomorrow, at the centre, as decided upon,” she added.

Post-Nirbhaya rape case, there has been a spurt in the number of complaints, said Dr. Sudeshna Mukerjee, Assistant Professor of women studies at Bangalore University. “Women are becoming more aware and upcoming about their ordeal, which is a positive sign.  Not only that, the media has played a crucial role in sensitizing the citizens by raising awareness about such issues.” Lifestyle, stress due to children, conflict between free-spirited women and men are potential causes of concern. According to 2013 report of National Crime Records Bureau, the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata have accounted for 13.0%, 6.3%, 5.5% and 4.7% respectively of the total IPC crimes reported from 53 mega cities.

“Whether the counsellors at such centres are qualified and credible enough to handle an increase in the number of complaints is an alarm-raiser,” said Dr. Mukerjee. She explained that the nature of disposal of the cases would help one gauge the efficiency of the organization.

“No matter what the number of cases is, people either stop taking follow-up, or settle dispute within themselves,” said Rani. Parihar also provides short stay homes and rehabilitation centres for mentally stressed women, namely Abhayashrama and Mahila Dakshata Samiti.

The story was originally published in The Observer, an IIJNM publication, on August 27, 2015.

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