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1090 women powerline in Uttar Pradesh

 6 months back or say 2 years back, girls and women of Uttar Pradesh did not have a feeling of being safe and secure. If something went wrong with them, there was nobody, they could share their anguish with. But with change of guard in Uttar Padesh, after the last assembly election, our young Chief Minister, soon after assuming office, started organising Janta Darbaar  where he founded that there were a large number of harassed and oppressed women coming with the hope of getting justice. The Chief Minister would listen to them patiently and issue orders to the concerned officer for redressal of their problems. These women, even if their problems remained unresolved, could not revert back to the Chief Minister again and again and if, at all they did, it was not certain that their problems would get resolved. DIG Mr. Navneet Sikera used to be his security adviser then. After some time there was a seminar on  Safety of Women organised at Kanpur by HT. The Chief Minister was also invited there. The women participants of the seminar met the chief minister and told him that they lack feeling of safety and always have the apprehension that somebody is stalking them wherever they go but they don’t have a platform where they could get help from in such a situation. The idea of Women Power Line 1090 occurred from this incident. These women remained in touch with Mr Sikera and kept exchanging their views with him. Dial 100 facility was already in place and so was a public grievance system helping the cause of women along with other users. Those needing help could get their complaints registered using the IVRS and the police would reach them in 2-3 days and try to resolve the problem.

Interview with  Mr Navniet Sekera

NGO Express- What prompted the making of Women Power Line?

Mr Navniet Sekera- The problem is known to everybody, especially women folks, that girls and women don’t feel safe anymore, and that exactly, is the reason why this Woman Power Line was started. I can tell you from my own experiences in the past six months that if only all women and girls become aware of the Women  Power Line 1090 and the way it helps them, it can be very effective in curbing this menace. At present they don’t understand the importance of this initiative but after making use of it,  I am sure their whole perception about it would change completely and they would start having faith that their problems  can be resolved. The idea of this Women  Power Line 1090 came from news of ragging that used to take place at the university campus for a long period of time. We didn’t need any legislation to eradicate ragging but we were able to deal with ragging, and deal effectively, and ultimately the ragging was put to an end. I am of the opinion that the ragging inside the campus is the same thing as harassment of women and girls outside the campus. Now if ragging can be stopped, why can the harassment of women also not be stopped. This can be stopped forever. The point is that if it took 10 years to stop ragging it can take another say 20 years to do away with harassment of women, but it is possible to put an end to it. The main problem before starting this power line was that the complaints about women harassment on phone or otherwise didn’t come to us through a police station. These complaints used to reach us through reference of somebody known to the police officer. These  complaints used to be very few in number. So, what we used to do was to caution the boy on phone or he was brought to police station and humiliated publicly and the problem was resolved. Those days, the problem was not as big as it now appears to be. Today the enormity of the problem can be gauged from the fact that everyday my mobile is full with the complaint SMSs. But the problem here is, that all people don’t have contacts with police officers. Those having no contacts could not even share their pain with anybody and were forced to live with it.               

NGO Express- People say that the problem has got worse only beause the police didn’t take timely action. What do you have to say about it?

Mr Navniet Sekera - All are suffering from it. So much so, that even the families of police officer are not spared. It is, therefore, altogether a different matter that people hold police responsible for it. But it proves that the problem is serious and serious efforts are needed to stop it. But this problem has not been created by the police, there are many other aspects to it. Let me ask you, if a girl is being harassed on phone or internet or is being stalked by a boy, what does the girl do? She tolerates it, because she has been brought up like this. She is asked to ignore it  because she is told that these things are common with girls and is advised to keep it to herself. Some parents advise the girl to keep silent and not indulge in arguments with boys. Thus we don’t teach our girls to face the problem from the front. Instead, we teach them, when faced with a problem, to look the other way. Thus we are biased against the girl and this weakens her resolve to fight injustice meted out to her every day. On the other hand,  the boy gets encouraged to proceed ahead with his motives. Now, if the girl gets fed up of it and decides to lodge a complaint, the parents now declare that the real culprit is the girl herself, otherwise, there are other girls in the society who also move out and don’t have to bear all this. Thus the girl has to face harassment  from the boy as well as her own parents who are supposed to protect her from it all. I think the attitude of all the families in the society will be the same as cited above and this forms the root cause of the problem. If we continue to teach our daughters  to suffer silently, this may result in heinous crimes at some later stage. The criminal act is being amended and we hope that this would also be included. The problem gets worse when we don’t bother to deal with it strictly, in the very beginning itself. In the  cases of harassment of the girls, parents generally, to remove her from the scene, send her  to their relative’s place till the the problem eases out. This actually demoralise the girl and she starts thinking that all this is happening to her only because she is a girl. Here also, we punish the girl, in a way, who is already a victim of the circumstances. If somebody dares go and  complain to the police, the police demand a written complaint which nobody agrees to.

NGO Express- How did it occur to your mind that this menace should be dealt with involving society?

Mr Navniet Sekera - The reason is that the police need a formal written complaint to proceed ahead with the case. Now suppose the girl lodges a written complaint, the police would take  a predefined legal course of action and involve court, which entails lenthy legal proceedings. The complainant and the accused may have to do tedious rounds of the court. Nobody can predict how much time consuming it could be. The eye-witnesses to the incident may be called to appear and testify after as long as 5-8 years and the girl may be required to testify even after 10 years, the fact remains, that she might have been married and have kids and living in a family way by that time, but she could be asked such embarrasisg question as, ‘ any harassment was meted out to you 10 year back ?’  Thus, she becomes an object of harassment further. People blame police for all the wrong-doings but the fact is that they don’t have much scope in such matters. So, this is a social menace, not a criminal one, and, therefore, needs to be dealt with in a way that the problem is prevented from taking place. Because, if we make it a criminal offence, half of our boys could be seen behind the bars. If we continue to be guided by this very old system, to get rid of the problem, it is certain that we would face practical difficulties on the way, because the problem has reached a stage where it cannot be resolved effectively without a separate and specific arrangement. Our police force is already burdened with so many assignments that they find it very difficult to pay due attention to such matters as harassment of girls and women. Why can’t there be a practical solution to the problem in place which could desist the accused boy from indulging in such activities, force him to mend his ways or else face serious consequences. The girl, on the other hand, becomes  too panicky to face the society. Why can’t such a thing be put in place which creates social barriers for the boy and force him to tread the right path or he could also be harassed in the same way as he used to harass the girl. This is, precisely, the reason that we use social remedies  to cure  social diseases in the Women Power Line 1090.      

NGO Express- Are you planning to bring domestic violence also, along with harassment, in the purview of Women Power Line 1090?

Mr Navniet Sekera -  I am of the opinion that if we could bring harassment of girls and women under control and, because other problems like domestic violence etc. are only off-shoot of this malaise, we would be successful in bringing domestic violence under control, the only thing is that  Women Power Line 1090 continues to work like this for another 10 years.  

NGO Express- I have seen in many states that various Helpline are working. What inspired you to name it Women Power Line?

Mr Navniet Sekera - I have seen in the promotional advertisement campaigns of various Helplines that women are portrayed as being weak, sad and helpless entity. In Delhi and other places I have seen in the hoardings, various demeaning words describing the plight of women folks. We don’t subscribe to those words. So we used the word ‘objectionable’ to sum up all kinds of harassment faced by them. Whatever is not liked by a girl or woman, is objectionable to her and must stop. One more thing,  Why  should we portray them as being week and powerless. We did not want that message to go from our ads., besides this, since all our efforts are directed towards empowering women, in  our ad. campaign, we preferred to use smilng face of a girl and the name Women Power Line, in place of Helpline.                              

NGO Express- We have come to know that only female counsellors have been deputed in  theWomen Power Line 1090. Is that right? 

Mr Navniet Sekera - Yes, that is right. The reason for this is very simple, ours is a big state with a population of over 20 crores and a literacy rate about 60%, despite that, our women folks don’t find themselves comfortable.  In European countries when a woman needs police help she is asked, ‘would you like to talk to a male or a female officer? ’ Even there the complainant prefers to speak to a woman officer. But in our country 99% women and girls would like to peak to a woman officer, if given a choice. So, we decided to give the responsibility of speaking to a girl or a woman to a woman counsellor. Moreover, the women and girls don’t want to disclose their identity, so we made it a rule not to disclose their identity, even to their parents. We don’t call them to a police station and more importantly, we will keep them posted with the progress with regard to their complaints. We will be their with them till their problem is resolved to their satisfaction. So, in a way we have brought complete change in the procedures and perceptions .    

NGO Express- Please tell us about the working of the Women Power Line 1090, in detail.

Mr Navniet Sekera - We have both female as well as male workers. But the job of receiving complaint calls from women and girls is done solely by females. We have made such an arrangement that every incoming call, even a missed call, is automatically recorded in in our system and can be tracked by us. One Mr. ------  of BBC visited us and appreciated the technical soundness of the system. Once the call is received, its details are sent to male section for further necessary action like speaking to the accused boy etc. The important thing is that even our boys don’t have any information about the complainant girl. From this you can understand the importance we give to the secrecy element. The boys are given all the information necessary to help them speak to the oppressor. One more unique feature of our system, which is first time in India, is that our telephone no. is a unique 4 digit no. once displayed on mobile, it makes clear that the call is from the police. Regular 10 digit no. was not able to produce that effect. On seeing our no. on his mobile the accused is clear that the call is from the police and he gets apprehensive and takes it very seriously. Our experience with earlier no. was not good and we have been abused many a time by the accused as if we were fake callers. People thought that police are too busy to call us on such petty things . On many occasions our boys were threatened by the pesky callers of dire consequences if we called them again. But we have trained our boys in such a way that they don’t lose self-control and carry out their duties objectively. At times they reached on the brink of losing their self-control but we told them that their duty was to resolve the issue and not become part of the problem themselves. Our counsellors tell these pesky callers that a complaint has been received against them,we make sure that the accused knows that the call is from the police. The first thing he asks is, which girl has lodged the complaint. Here we tell him that as per the orders of the Hon’ble High Court, name of the complainant girl can not be disclosed. We ask him if he has made any such call, we also tell him the time of the call, our girls take this information from the victim and pass it to our boys. After this we tell the accused to stop this forthwith. When he comes to know all this, he immediately surrenders and promises not to do it again. Our boys tell him that if he doesn’t stop indulging in such activities, he should know that all his details are with the police and a case will be registered against him and he will not  be able to obtain passport,driving license or any such certificate for which police verification is mandatory. Thus, 99% problems are resolved then and there. Such a warning proves to be very effective and helpful in resolving the problem. We also tell them that they won’t be able to escape even if they change their sim-card because they will be under our surveillance and it will be better for them to mend their ways. We would like to tell you that our power line is 6 months old, we are planning to send SMSs to the accused, whose complaint was registered with us and they have not done anything wrong ever since, to covey to them that they are still under our radar. We are also planning to send ‘thank you’ message to the girls and women who showed courage to take the bold step of calling Women Power Line 1090, this message will be sent only to reassure them that we still care for and are with them. We will also wish them good-luck for their future life and endeavours. This message will be in English and Hindi  both. Stepwise working is that we, after collecting all the relevant information about the accused boy, we make a  warning cum counselling call to him that he should stop such activities. Then, 24 hours after this call we make a call to the girl and inform her of the action taken on her complaint and if the girl tells us that she has not been disturbed eversince, then we move to second phase which starts after 7 days. We again ask the girl if everything is fine with her, if her answer is in affirmative then we call her after one month to know her well being. Again if she is ok , our boys’ next call to her is the final call. By that time she normally forgets about her complaint. But if she says the boy is still bothering her, we hand over the case, along with all details available with us to the crime branch. One unit of the crime branch is attached with the Women Power Line 1090. In this case the Women Power Line 1090 becomes  the complainant on  behalf of the girl but we don’t disclose the identity of the girl even then. Our respected CM was of the view that we should give the boy another opportunity to reform himself. So we again take out his  details and prepare for his final counselling. On this point our boys came out with with an innovative idea. In stead of family counselling they favoured social counselling. They started making call to all the contacts available on his call record, obtaind from the telephone provider and apprised each one of them of the shameful activities of the accused. 

Once we took father, mother and sister of the accused on a conference call  and then we brought the boy in, as soon as we informed the boy that we are calling from the Women Power Line1090, he started calling us names. But when we informed him that his father, mother and sister are also listening him, then we told him that we are now going to start the tape of his vulgar conversation with the girl, for them to hear it all. As soon as we started the tape he immediately surrendered and promised not to tease the girl again. Thus we handed him such an effective social punishment, he would not be able to forget for the rest of his life. We didn’t intend to humiliate him but we were not left with any other option either. Apart from this, there are incidents when we call the boy and his parents to our powerline office and start the recorded conversation for them to listen and decide for themselves. They listen the conversation and thank us for involving them in the matter or else they coud’nt have come to know of their son’s activities and he would have gone stray. Then, they promise us all help and caution the boy in front of us. Thus the matter gets  resolved in a very congenial way. Such innovations could come about only because we treat every member of our team equally. We would also like to make a special mention here that we are technically very sound. We have a system whereby we can take  25 people on conference call at any given time. This has proved to be very effective in our work. We have all the information about the boy and if he doesn’t mend his ways, he cannot escape from us. The main reason for our being so effective in our role is that all the girls working here have undergone such harassment in their life and that is why they render all possible help to the harassed girl or women. We  deliberately selected such girls because the idea was to bring in only those who wanted to fight out  such elements. There is no senior officer posted here to overlook the work of Women Power Line 1090. Anybody can chip in with his or her idea and if found useful we implement it. When we receive a call, it occurs to us that somebody has fallen ill and needs proper treatment. In a way, we want to develop this Women Power Line 1090 as a vaccine to prevent the disease of harassment of women and girls.

NGO Express - How do you plan to popularise Women Power Line 1090 ?

Mr Navniet Sekera - As you know, organisations like Women Power Line 1090 need encouragement. If print  and electronic media could manage to give a little space for the news related to Women Power Line1090 on regular basis and  celebrities could spare a few minutes for us, the Women Power Line1090 would be there in the news daily and this will go a long way in spreading word about the powerline. Another way of popularising Women Power Line 1090 is mouth to mouth publicity. When a girl is fully satisfied with our service, and when we make the last call, we ask her to do us a favour i.e. if she is fully satisfied with us, she should tell about us to any girl in distress. This would be a great benefit to the women folks  of the state. In the first phase, we intend to resolve the issues concerning pesky callers, then in the second phase, we will deal with harassment through internet and finally in the third phase, any type of  harassment of girls and women done through any medium. After this we would like to reach out to every girl and women of the state whether living in cities or villages. All the girls in our villages must know where they can get help from. This will be helpful to us. I would like to add that given the present level of efficiency, if we continue to work like this, 99% cases can be solved then and there. Our success rate is 99% whereas conviction rate in courts is only 4%. That is precisely the reason we don’t want to involve court procedures because that way our level of efficiency may  go down.       

NGO  Express Observation

 While interacting with the employees of Women Power Line 1090, when we asked them what they liked most about working in Women Power Line, because during their posting at police stations they used to enjoy a lot of power and influence. In reply, all of them told us that  they were posted at the police station as constables and there is no power given to a constable.So, they were unable to help any girl or woman. Sometimes, the FIR was not written or at all, if written it was incomplete or under wrong sections. All they meant was that they didn’t find their role helpful to women. But they have helped out many hapless girls ever since they joined Women Power Line. The girls, after their problem has been taken care of, tell us that they did not dare to share their problems even to their parents, because, if they had done that, their parents would have taken their mobile and asked them to stay at home.  

NGO Express- How do the employees working in Women Power Line 1090 feel about the atmosphere here and what are their working hours?

Mr Navniet Sekera - I must tell you that we have taken only government employees for working with this power line and you would be happy to know that those girls who, in their whole career of more than one year in police, could not solve a single case, are daily helping 10 to 12 girls. They feel very good when the girls, whom they have helped out, call them and want to personally thank them. Thus, the girl working here also feel empowered in the real sense of the word. We also consult our family members to improve upon our working because I firmly believe that it is not necessarily a highly educated person who can give a better idea. Best ideas come from simple persons. Simple ideas are the best ones, and they generally come from common man. During the course of our work we keep meeting girls of colleges and university. At times they also give us very useful ideas. Our working hours are 6 hours for every employee. While they are at work we ensure that they are not under any undue stress. Due to our initial success, now many people have started coming here to study our model.  

NGO Express- Could you please tell us how have you been instrumental in bringing this project

Mr Navniet Sekera - 4150/530 I have been associated with this project since its beginning and therefore I can say that this project is the result of team spirit. My first priority was to keep the functioning of this power line as free from hassles of judicial process as possible, the reason for this was the delay factor in the delivery of service, in case we opted for judicial involvement. I was expected to keep the functioning of this power line as simple as possible keeping in mind, the user’s angle. This project couldn’t have been possible but for the blessings of our respected Chief Minister who has rendered every possible help to make it functional. We are planning to expand it in different phases but after summers. Presently we are having 50 work stations, but by July-Aug 2013 we are likely to get 50 more, so that we could cover the whole of Uttar Pradesh with our services. Our system is technical very sound. It can generate very useful data automatically. This data is very useful in prioritising our focus areas and improving our functioning.

 NGO Express- You have studied Management. Has it contributed in some way towards making this project a reality? 

Mr Navniet Sekera - Yes, Of course! The first thing I would like to tell you is that it has really helped me in making systematic efforts to attain any given objective. In this project also, we have worked in  phased manner and according to a pre-defined plan. It has also been very useful in having various tools developed, keeping the procedures as simple and practical as possible, as per our requirements.

The services of Women Power Line 1090 are not available from12 in the night and 8 in the morning. An IVRS is activated for this duration which informs the caller that the services of Women Power Line 1090 can be availed from 8 am to 12 pm and if the caller requires any emergeny help, he or she could make use of ‘Dial 100’ service of the police. But when our girls come in the morning, they  take out the recording of IVRS and start contacting the callers to know their plight and take necessary suitable action. There are three main factors behind the success of this project namely- leadership of DIG Mr Sikera, hard work of the team and satisfaction of serving those in need. We are guided by the belief that such incident can happen with anyone and everyone and if our respected Chief Minister and senior officer are rendering all possible help, then we should also make all possible efforts to make this project a grand success. If we get a call related to domestic violence,we ensure that the victim gets all co-operation from the police department and is fully satisfied.  

It is a well known fact that our infrastructure and technological resources are not as advanced as those of other states but inspite of this fact many police officers of various states have visited us to find out the reason behind the success of Uttar Pradesh’s Women Power Line 1090. When we are asked this question, we tell them that sheer determination, willingness to serve our people and good leadership skills have made it possible. The girls and boys work for 6 hrs a day i.e.,42 hrs a week and then they are given one day break. Apart from this, they are given various other facilities like their uniform which is to be provided by the Government and also special courses to strengthen their leadership skills are arranged for improving their skills. Their pay is also likely to be increased. Let me also tell you that this project is being run solely on the resources provided by the state government. We have not outsourced a single work to any outside agency. In all we have a total strength of 100 employees.They are picked up and dropped, to and fro, by our official vehicle.  We provide them with all these facilities so that they can concentrate on their duty and provide succour to the girls and women in need. We are training 15 girls for conducting awareness presentation in various schools and colleges. We are utilizing the mobile services of BSNL for this powerline. For the safety of data we have installed our main server  at a distant place which is  accessible to only senior officers. So far we have carried out only one ad campaign and that too, one day before the launch of this power line by the CM on 15th November last year, one full page advertisement was given in all newspapers of Uttar Pradesh. We are contemplating sending SMSs to all accused of eve-teasing or other types of harassment, about whom complaints were received on Women Power Line 1090 which, we will keep sending every 15 days for 3 months, just to give them a feeling that they are still under our surveillance. There are a few practical suggestion which if implemented by parents and teachers together, may be very useful in preventing such incidents. These are-

Ø   We should not differentiate between son and daughter in any way.

Ø   Keep track of the movement of school and college going children.

Ø  There should be a restriction on students in school uniform entering malls or theatres.

Ø School and college going boys and girls may not be given costly mobile phones and big

We are always on the look out for new and innovative ideas so that we can improve our functioning. Best ideas are simplest. These may come from anybody, however educated or uneducated he might be. All I want to say is that if we can provide effective service for another 10 years and make the present generation of girls mentally stronger, they will stop tolerating such harassment and then, boys will dare not harass any girl. If we could change this mindset, that women are weaker and can not resist harassment of all kind, in 10-15 years, then it will be a big achievement for us. We have already started working on this and we are doing this with utmost sincerity and resolve. We take each and every call with utmost sincerity. If we make all women and girls mentally stronger, they can handle even the toughest situation. They can deal with any thing if they are mentally prepared to face it. I recall one such incident where by dint of her sheer presence of mind, she was able to come out of a difficult situation. One girl narrated on incident to me  that once she happened to be on a place where some boys were creating all sorts of nuisance for the girls passing by. She complained to the policemen posted there and asked them to take some action. On finding that the policemen were reluctant to do anything, she herself decided to do something about it. She took out her mobile phone and started filming the incident and the mischief-mongers. On seeing her video-recording them, the boys fled away whereas the fact was that she didn’t have a camera in her mobile. Everything has its climax and only then the real impact of it comes forth. TheWomen Power Line 1090 is in its initial stage at present but if it continues to provide effective service for another 5 years, the problem of harassment of women and girls would be finished forever. I remember one incident where my niece used her presence of mind and could manage to escape crisis. She pretended to be talking to a police officer on her mobile and the driver of the auto, in which she was travelling at 4am in the morning, could not dare harm her despite initially intending to do so. We should learn from these instances that we can fight out even the most difficult situation if we manage not to lose our mental balance. We must make short films whereby we can encourage women and girls in the villages and inspire them to fight it out and be proud of being a girl or a women. We will make use of audio-visual and print media for this purpose.