The condition of women/girls/boys in shelter homes in Karnataka is DIRE and requires urgent intervention. Inspite of repeated complaints (See letter below) to the Karnataka State Women’s Commission since March 2016, under Ms. Manasa, there has been absolutely no response.
Karnataka State Women’s Commission
Sub.: Regarding violation of rights in shelter homes across Karnataka
We are writing to you in regard to the continuing violation of rights of women in shelter homes across the State of Karnataka.
Women can sometimes find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations which can render them homeless and exposed to a variety of situations that aggravate their vulnerability and further decompensate their ability to lead meaningful and dignified lives. Shelter homes have been envisaged as temporary homes that allow women to reclaim some control over their lives with access to legal, educational, vocational, medical and other support.
These homes are of two types:
- Shelter homes run by the Government
- Private homes run by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) receiving Central Government Funding under the Ujjwala Scheme
However, living in a shelter home can itself be a harrowing experience with its associated physical, social and psychological problems.
We have visited some shelter homes and are writing to you to bring to your notice some serious issues that need to be immediately addressed:
- Illegal detention of women
Women who are majors are being forcibly detained in the shelter homes for various reasons. There are several major women who are languishing in these homes and who have been in these homes for several years now. Such illegal detention is being made for reasons ranging from having married against the wishes of their parents, having been “rescued” from trafficking and being forcibly detained and not being permitted to return home amongst others. Although staff have made some efforts to repatriate the women, this has not been intensive and there are many women/children who continue to remain for several months and years as the homes were unable to trace their families due to language or other barriers.
- Poor condition of the shelter homes
The situation of many of the shelter homes in Karnataka is unacceptable. The homes more often resemble a prison than a safe home with women having no access to the outside world.
- The minimum space requirements are not adhered to. There is no privacy and ten to fifteen women at a minimum are forced to share rooms that are overcrowded, poorly lit and poorly ventilated.
- Some centres do not have sanitary napkins and women are forced to use cloth without access to sunlight to even dry these cloth napkins.
- The inmates of these homes are completely cut off from the outside world. The shelter homes had no books or reading material. It leads the residents to feel completely cut off from the outside world and a real feeling of being imprisoned. One girl who had earlier been trafficked said ‘We are being treated like criminals and kept in prison while the pimps and traffickers roam around freely. We women are being criminalized in this whole process.”
- Inadequate toilets and bathrooms and being poorly maintained in an unhygienic state.
- Residents who came from other states or districts have expressed difficulty in adjusting to a different food.
- Very few of the homes focus on vocational training. Many of the residents had been there for several years and were from other states. However many of them were not adequately occupied and found sitting in different parts of the home
- Lack of access to any form of legal assistance
We noticed that access to legal assistance for women inmates is very difficult therefore denying them any access to the justice system itself. This is a fundamental right that is being violated.
Inadequate and poorly trained staff
Staff of shelter homes have not received training on how to sensitively deal with the issues faced by women in shelter homes. Many have not received training in basic counselling and therefore are ill prepared to deal with the shelter homes. Some of the staff were not even aware of the ITPA and POCSO but were interested in being trained.
Inadequate healthcare and counseling
Although there were tie-ups with the primary health centres, there was a lack of adequate healthcare. There was no counselling available especially to women who were mentally challenged. The State has a responsibility to protect the health of all persons in its custody. One of the fundamental aspects of this duty is to ensure that persons who are detained do no become mentally ill after detention. The National Human Rights Commission has issued guidelines for Protection of Human Rights of Mentally ill under-trial prisoners/ released persons referred to by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Charanjit Singh And National Human Rights Commission vs. State And Ors. With regard to steps to be taken to prevent people becoming mentally ill after entering jail and detention centres, it has issued the following recommendations to all jails and detention centres
“10) The State has a responsibility for the mental and physical health of those it imprisons. While some of the recommendations below may appear to be of a general nature, they would help prevent people becoming mentally ill after entering jail. Each jail and detention centre, therefore, should ensure that it provides the following:
(i) An open environment, lawns, kitchen gardens and flower gardens, Daily programmes for prisoners should include physical and mental activities that reduce stress and depression including organized sport and meditation.
(ii) A humane staff that is not unduly harsh;
(a) Officers of the institution shall not, in their relations with the prisoners use force except in self-defense or in cases of attempted escape, or active or passive physical resistance to an order based on law or regulations. Officers who have recourse to force must use no more than is strictly necessary and must report the incident immediately to the director of the institution.
(b) Prison officers shall be given special physical training to enable them to restrain aggressive prisoners.
(c) Except in special circumstances, staff performing duties which being them into direct contact with prisoners should not be armed. Furthermore, staff should in no circumstances be provided with arms unless they have been trained in their use.
(iii) Effective grievance redressal mechanisms.
(a) Every prisoner on admission shall be provided with written information about the regulation governing the treatment of prisoners of his category, the disciplinary requirements of the institution, the authorized methods of seeking information and making complaints, and all such other matters as are necessary to enable him to understand both his rights and his obligations and to adapt himself to the life of the institution.
(b) If a prisoner is illiterate, the aforesaid information shall be conveyed to him orally.
(c) Every prisoner shall have the opportunity each weekday of making requests or complaints to the director of the institution or the officer authorized to represent him.
(d) Every prisoner shall be allowed to make a request or complaint, without censorship as to substance but in proper form, to the central prison administration, the judicial authority or other proper authorities through approved channels.
(e) Unless it is evidently frivolous or groundless, every request or complaint shall be promptly dealt with and replied to without undue delay.
(iv) Encouragement to receive visitors and maintain correspondence, interview facilities; access to the more important items of the news by any means authorized by the administration; access for foreign nationals to their diplomatic representatives.
(v) Overseeing bodies including members from civil society to ensure the absence of corruption and abuse of power in jails.”
However, none of these guidelines are being followed, and there are very strong chances of women entering these homes to become mentally unwell.
We have seen that the above situation exists in both Government-run homes and the homes run by NGO’s under the Ujjwala Scheme.
Section 9(i) of the Karnataka State Commission for Women Act, 1995 provides for one of the functions of the Commission as the following:
“(1) The Commission shall perform all or any of the following functions namely
…(i) inspect or cause to be inspected a jail, remand home, women’s institution or other place of custody where women are kept as prisoners or otherwise and take up with the concerned authorities for remedial action, wherever found necessary”
As seen above, there are several violations of the constitutional and fundamental rights of women that is taking place on a daily basis in these homes. We feel that there is an urgent need for an enquiry committee to visit these homes on a regular basis to ensure that they are not just another prison to incarcerate women for years, without access to justice systems, education, vocations or even basic dignity.