Uttar Pradesh tops the country in registered cases of crime against women. But, the state government has not released any funds in more than a year for two of its special schemes on women safety.
Some Women Helpline 181 workers in front of their office
Ayushi Singh, 32, was one of the 390 employees working with Uttar Pradesh’s Women Helpline 181. Recently on July 3, she jumped in front of a train in Kanpur, and died by suicide. Singh was one of those helpline workers laid off last month on June 5. She, like others, hadn’t been paid for over 12 months.
Singh’s family and colleagues allege that she ended her life due to the financial stress, and mental stress that rose from the recent loss of her job. “She was very upset when she received a notice of termination from the office,” Singh’s father Surendra Singh told Gaon Connection.
“Her husband being physically challenged, Ayushi had to fend for the whole family. She had to take a loan since she was not paid for a year,” he said. “At six in the evening, she went out on the pretext of making a fresh resume. When we called on her mobile at seven, the police at Chakeri Thana responded,” he sighed.
The Women Helpline 181, one of the most ambitious projects of the Akhilesh Yadav-led UP government, was launched as a pilot project in 11 districts on March 8, 2016. Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the responsibility of running the helpline was given to GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute, a private sector company, for five years.
This helpline was launched with the intention of providing free help to women living in remote areas suffering from domestic violence. As per the National Crime Reporting Bureau report of 2017, out of the 3.59 lakh cases of crime against women registered in the country, UP topped the list with 56,011 cases.
Under the Women Helpline 181, about 90 telecounsellors worked in Lucknow head office. Every district had a field counsellor and a rescue van that helped the aggrieved woman at the district level. Out of the 390 employees, 351 were women.
Two years ago, on June 24, noticing the good results of the project, the Yogi Adityanath-led UP government increased the helpline’s capacity from a six-seater to 30, and expanded it from 11 to 75 districts in the state. As per the MoU, GVK’s term was to end in November this year. The Department of Women and Child Development, however, abruptly stopped the funds to the company last February.
A company representative, on condition of anonymity, told Gaon Connection that the company paid the employees till June last year, despite lack of funds from the government, to ensure the smooth running of the scheme. The company had to terminate all the employees on June 5 this year, since they were finding no further funding from the government. All hopes of the employees of getting paid sunk with the receipt of the termination letters.
“Ayushi was very upset due to the financial crisis at home. The house rent and the expenses of her husband and daughter were met with her salary,” Singh’s team leader Pooja Pandey told Gaon Connection. “All of us had already been under tremendous stress for a year, and on June 5, a job termination letter was sent to everyone’s home,” she added.
Originally from Kanpur’s Shyamnagar, and married in Kalyanpur, Singh was the sole earning member of her family. Her husband is physically challenged, and her daughter is five years old. Singh was working with the helpline in Unnao as the rescue van facilitator.
“No employee has received any salary for the last year. We are all mentally and financially disturbed. Ten days ago, one of our workers from Santakbir Nagar tried to take her own life but, was saved. We could not save Ayushi,” Pandey added.
So far, over five lakh women in UP have received help through the Women Helpline 181.
The scheme, however, is on the verge of closure, owing to the neglect of the state government and the Department of Women and Child Development. Most of the women employees are victims of domestic violence and were either divorced or single. Singh’s suicide has posed a big question mark on the government’s commitment towards women’s safety and empowerment.
“We visited the department countless times but nobody paid us any heed,” Nazneen, a telecounsellor working in Women Helpline 181, told Gaon Connection, talking about the government’s apathy towards the helpline workers. “The officers at the department mocked us saying, “Your company has fled”,” she said.
“The scheme was launched amid much fanfare but, no one had foreseen such a situation. Four principal secretaries have been replaced in two years. We have appealed to the chief minister four times but to no avail,” she lamented.
Gaon Connection reached out to Manoj Rai, director of Women and Child Development Welfare in UP, and asked why funds were not released for the salaries. “We make payments when we get money from the government,” Rai responded.
“There was some technical problem due to which the payment was not being released. The selection of the institution (GVK) was not done properly at the time of tender, and currently, the matter is under the government’s deliberation. All those who have worked will be paid,” Rai said.
“No letter has been issued on our behalf. These are the questions you need to ask GVK, these people worked for them. It is not our responsibility but GVK’s whether they are allowed to work further. We are not GVK, we are the Government of Uttar Pradesh,” Rai retorted on being asked if the workers were served termination letters in June.
The Department of Women and Child Development has not released funds to pay the 650 employees of Mahila Samakhya for last 17 months. Four employees working with Mahila Samakhya died. Their colleagues allege these employees died because they could not afford proper treatment.
The Mahila Samakhya works in UP towards the empowerment of women and close to 10 lakh women are associated with it. Functioning as an autonomous body under the Basic Education Department, UP, Mahila Samakhya was started as a new state-level programme of the Department of Women and Child Development from January 9, 2017. It was allotted budget for 220 blocks of 19 districts in 2017-18.
Mahila Samakhya is working on spreading awareness about the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, the Dowry Prohibition Actz1961, and the smooth implementation of various Acts related to the children.
“Ten lakh families have been affected by the collapse of the scheme. Last year, four of our women employees fell sick and died. I believe they died because they could not get timely treatment due to lack of money,” Smriti Singh, state project director, Mahila Samakhya, told Gaon Connection.
“The government applauded the Women’s Court run by us, which solved over 20,000 domestic violence cases. We now have offices in 16 districts,” Smriti Singh said. “In absence of government’s financial support for last 17 months, the scheme has run into serious trouble but, no one is attending to it,” she added.
Two vital government schemes working towards the safety and empowerment of women in UP are languishing from government apathy for over a year. The employees have staged numerous demonstrations, and have extensively corresponded with the concerned authorities. The government seems to have turned a deaf ear.
The functioning of Women Helpline 181 and Mahila Samakhya is absolutely vital in a state like UP, which tops the country in crime against women. Will the government ensure it? Only time will tell.
Gaon Connection reached out to the chief executive officer of GVK, and the special secretary, Department of Women Development, for a response on the termination of Women Helpline 181, but received no response. The report will be updated as soon as they respond.