Safety remains major concern for women at shelters

Hasina wants to leave the women’s night shelter near Jama Masjid and go back to her village in Bihar. But there is only one thing holding her back – the hope of finding her four-year-old daughter who went missing two months ago.

Sehar* was playing just outside the shelter when a man kidnapped her. Two months on, police have been unable to trace her.

“Day and night, I just pray I find my child. As soon as I find her, I will go back to my village. Who wants to live here anyway?” Hasina says.

The area has five night shelters – two for women, one each for families, kids, and men. Hasina’s daughter is one of the many girls missing from the shelters in last few months.
“The staff of the shelter home also don’t take any responsibility. If any incident happens, we are left to fend for ourselves,” says Tara, referring to the security of women living in the shelters.

“There is a huge rush during winters. Sometimes, there are cases of molestation and eve-teasing. But there is no one to report to,” says Ruksana. Her five-year-old daughter is crying aloud because Ruksana is not allowing her to go out to play.

“It is not safe here. There is a presence of a lot of drug addicts. I don’t want to lose my child like Hasina,” Ruksana says.

“A lot of girls are missing from these night shelters and the entire police system does not seem to have that kind of information system to be able to prevent and track these people. Something very serious needs to be done,” says Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Chairperson Swati Maliwal.

Maliwal had recommended installation of CCTV cameras outside the shelters, but nothing has been done in this direction so far.

“Agar ameer ka bachcha hota toh ek dum dhoondh laate (Had it been a child of a rich man, police would have found her immediately),” Hasina says.

Her statement highlights the obscurity in which people here spend their lives. As Hasina talks about her child, an old woman goes on a rant on how people come here “dressed up in jeans and shirt” and ask about their problems but “do nothing”.

The women here feel there is no one they can talk to about their problems. Most of them either leave the shelters in the afternoon to beg near Jama Masjid or depend on odd jobs.

Maliwal, along with her team, had spent the night in one of the night shelters in the area in October and pointed out several glaring anomalies in their functioning. She found the night shelters extremely unsafe for women and came to know that many children had gone missing from there.

The DCW had issued a notice to the director handling night shelters run by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

“The female and male night shelters are adjacent to each other in the same complex, with no apparent security restriction, which raises concerns about the security of women.

Toilets are very few and no separate toilet has been designated for women. Only one woman caretaker was present in the Jama Masjid night shelter, rest were male guards.
Also, there was no CCTV camera present in and around either of the shelters,” Maliwal had said in her letter to Director (Night Shelter), in October.

The DUSIB officials had responded that they don’t have land to construct more toilets, following which the DCW chairperson had asked them to set up mobile toilets to accommodate the winter rush.

During her visit, Maliwal also found that none of the streetlights in the area was working.
Two months after the notice, not much has changed. There are currently thousands of people living in the night shelters in Jama Masjid area but only four toilets for both men and women. No mobile toilet has been set up. The area is a hub for traffickers targeting children and women, but nothing much has been done to strengthen security arrangements in and around these shelters.

The apathy still continues.

Hema*, along with her two kids and husband, was “thrown out” of the night shelter some months ago after she had a fight with a caretaker. She now sleeps on the road outside the shelter.

“There are so many people living together. It is natural to get engaged in a fight. They didn’t think twice before throwing me out in this weather. I feel scared living on the road like this,” she says.

However, the women living in the night shelters are satisfied with the regular drinking water supply after the visit of the DCW chief.

Talking about immediate steps to be taken on women’s security, Maliwal says with the winter rush, there should be immediate deployment of home guards or police personnel outside these shelters.

* Names have been changed.

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