To test the 181 helpline for women, a bench of the Delhi High court on Thursday asked the Delhi government lawyer to call the number. The phone rang and an automated message informed the caller that they had reached the helpline. But no human voice answered.
Expressing “shock” at the lack of response from the helpline, which is meant to give immediate help to women facing any safety issue, the Delhi High Court on Thursday asked why the line did not have a “call back” system to ensure that all persons calling the number are given help, even if the call gets cut or gets dropped.
The court of justices Kailash Gambhir and Sunita Gupta have now asked Delhi government counsel Sanjay Poddar to file a response within four weeks, as the counsel argued that the call-back facility was not possible since the government did not have access to “pre-registered numbers” and did not have a system to identify the caller.
Amicus curiae and senior advocate K K Sharma and advocate Ajay Verma also told the court that the phone helpline was not enough since many victims may not have access to phones. “There is no deterrent to this because they don’t know its a crime,” Sharma said.
The court also asked the Union I&B Ministry why no steps had been taken to spread awareness among people regarding sexual offences against women and punishments that may be imposed. Noting that data had indicated that most of the crimes against women were by “lower classes”, the court also asked the Centre to “launch an awareness programme on war footing”.
“Right now, they think its just a mistake that means nothing. Make them educated, tell them that if you do this you will spend your life in jail,” the court said, adding that there was a need to educate parents to take “better care” of children, since a number of cases of rapes and molestation involved family members and neighbours.
The court also asked the government to involve NGOs, filmmakers and popular personalities to spread awareness, observing that the few advertisements on national television were “not enough.”
The government of Delhi also faced flak for failing to answer the court’s query on whether any specific action had been taken with regard to the already identified “vulnerable areas” and areas with a high number of migrant and poor population.
Meanwhile, in separate affidavits, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Women and Child Development department of the Delhi government informed the court that steps were being taken to introduce gender sensitisation programmes in schools.
The CBSE, NCERT, Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodayas and the national council for teacher education have been directed to revise the curriculum to introduce issues such as gender violence and discrimination.