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Hapless woman�s case exposes poor distress response mechanism in State


GUWAHATI, May 9 - The State�s preparedness to survive the COVID-19-induced situation has conveniently overlooked a most vulnerable section � destitute women.

The sorry state of affairs in the State machinery and voluntary organisations in responding to distress calls exposes a serious lack of concern among the upper echelons to have a mechanism to give shelter and assistance to hapless women.

The apathy came to light after The Assam Tribune�s attempts to find an overnight shelter for a woman in need on Friday evening. Forty-nine-year-old Kanika Barman (name changed) was allegedly driven out of her relative�s house in the city whom she was visiting for some essential work.

The woman, originally from Nalbari, approached The Assam Tribune seeking the media�s assistance in finding a shelter.

With evening curfew in force during the lockdown and no other place to go, she waited for hours on the footpath as the 181 Women Helpline pleaded with NGOs and shelter homes to arrange for a night�s stay for her to no avail.

While most of the shelter homes including the Swadhar Greh meant for women in distress and One Stop Centre to respond to women�s grievances stated that they were already occupied, some NGOs maintained that they were not ready to take the woman without a mandatory COVID-19 screening.

Strangely, neither the NGOs nor the police had the knowledge of any advisory on where to take a woman in distress if the shelter homes are already filled. Especially, observing the woman�s somewhat �mentally unstable� demeanour, the police � who arrived at the scene quite late � were also at a loss as to how to deal with her.

Despite being approached, the Assam State Commission for Women also failed to find a proper solution.

�Shelter homes of Guwahati are not at all adequate to respond to a crisis situation like this. They are neither equipped nor briefed about their roles. Moreover, Kamrup Metro being the main transit point, there is a huge burden of cases of distressed women, victims of domestic violence, women with mental conditions etc.,� said sources in the social welfare department, pleading anonymity.

It needs mention that the State has 16 Swadhar Grehs, of which three are in Guwahati. Moreover, one of the three such facilities is in a dilapidated condition, which has not been reviewed by the authorities for long.

�We cannot operate with the existing mechanism in this hour of crisis. To address increasing number of cases, we need separate screening camps or quarantine facilities for women in need. Several other states have arranged such camps,� sources added.

On the other hand, when contacted, the One Stop Centre (OSC) in Survey area of the city replied that it had only three beds instead of the mandatory five which were occupied by a pregnant woman, a woman with a minor child and a woman who had completed her quarantine in Meghalaya.

�Moreover, a woman with an unknown background cannot be accommodated at any centre unless the COVID test is complete,� Ilusmita Konwar, in-charge of the OSC said. Konwar also advocated a separate facility for screening and quarantine of women in Guwahati considering the large number of cases being registered through helpline and other sources.

The case of Kanika Barman, who was rehabilitated at the house of her relative in Birubari area after much persuasion, and at the intervention of the police, however left behind several questions about the State�s approach and efficiency while dealing with issues concerning underprivileged people.

�We have been asking the State government to include women�s issues in the State�s COVID advisory. It�s unfortunate that the State does not have a special and specific mechanism to address such issues. It�s high time such issues got reflected on the administration�s priority list,� Anurita Pathak Hazarika of women�s rights group North East Network (NEN) stated.

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