For over a month, nine of the 10 government-run women shelter homes have been without a superintendent. Rape survivors, domestic abuse victims, rescued sex workers, HIV+ve women and those with mental illness stay at these shelter homes, also know as Nari Sankrakshan Gruh. These shelter homes are located in Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda, Rajkot, Godhra, Himmatnagar, Bharuch, Navsari, Palitana and Palanpur. Barring Ahmedabad, the remaining nine are without superintendents since June 30 when their contracts expired. The contract of the superintendent at Ahmedabad shelter home has also expired, but she has been working without pay.
“The Women and Child Welfare Department took charge of these shelters in 2015. Earlier, it was under the Social Security Department. We hired nine women for the post of superintendent on an 11-month contract after giving them training in 2016. We are yet to decide if we want to hire people on contract basis or on a permanent basis. The decision will be taken soon,” said B B Patel, director of Gender Resource Centre at the Women and Child Welfare Department. They were hired on a salary, ranging between Rs 10,000 to Rs 11,000.
The Bharuch shelter home is being currently managed by one Chhaya Bhatiya, who said she that she was the craft teacher at the Nari Sankrakshan Gruh. “What superintendent? There has been no one here for almost a year now. I manage the shelter home. Do not get me started on the amount of work I have to do in a day,” an irritated Bhatiya told The Indian Express over phone.
Bhatiya said that she had joined the home as a craft teacher in 2009 and had no choice, but to take the charge of the superintendent after the contractual employee quit last year. “The government had hired a woman last year as the superintendent, but she left within three months. Since then, I have been managing the place. I am not the superintendent or in-charge. But there is no one here,” said Bhatiya, adding that a woman peon doubles up as a caretaker to make up for the staff crunch at the shelter home which has 21 inmates.
At Vadodara shelter home, where 33 women reside, the chairperson of the home is managing the day-to-day activity. “I am working because there is no one to manage the shelter since the contracts expired,” said Rita Manjawala, who also noted that she had called the secretary of Social Justice and Empower-ment Minister Atmaram Parmar to apprise him about the shelter home’s situation. “The minister’s secretary assured that the matter is serious and will be taken care of,” said Manjawala. When reached, Parmar said that he was not aware about the situation.
“No such matter has come to me as yet. I can ask my director and revert. These things are at the director level. I am a minister and we do not have the knowledge about everything. Please speak to a secretary concerned,” the minister said.
In Surat, the shelter home is being managed by a woman who looks after the cleaning and attends to basic medical emergencies. “I am a retired employee and came here to help. The nurses run this centre. I do not know much,” said Parvatiben. The superintendent of Ahmedabad shelter home is still working despite the expiry of her contract. “I do not know the status of my contract. My contract got over on June 30, but I continue to work here as there is no one else to take over. I have not got my salary and I am hoping that our contracts are renewed,” said Shital Solanki, who has a degree in social work.
“We have to counsel the women inmates and work towards their rehabilitation. I work from 7 am till the women go to sleep. There are 35 mentally-challenged women and often there are fights… It is a lot of hard work,” she said.
The shelter homes had come under a scanner after there were reports of women inmates running away from Ahmedabad shelter home. In 2015, a girl ran away from Ahmedabad shelter home, claiming that she was being harassed. Last year, 14 escaped after attacking the warden. When asked if it is safe to operate the shelter homes without enough staff, Patel of the WCD said, “We will make sure there is someone soon. I agree that it is a risky situation. We are working on it.”
In May 2016, the Gujarat High Court ordered the government to reframe rules which govern the functioning of women shelter homes. The order was in response to a public interest litigation that sought court’s intervention. The court was of the view that the rules governing the shelter homes were framed in 1964 and needed to be updated with the passage of time. The bench also asked the government to fill the post of regular superintendents by August 15.
“We are dealing with a crisis. The women living in these shelter homes are vulnerable women. The department has to make sure that they hire the right person and that the person is suitably paid .We proposed a change in the rules of the shelter homes after incidents of women running away were reported,” said Prita Jha, president of Peace and Equality Cell, an NGO which filed the PIL. The next hearing in the PIL is scheduled for Wednesday.