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Ear for distress calls, voice of advice

Case I: Fifteen-year-old Asha, an orphan, lived with her uncle and aunt. But barely into her teens, she was regularly raped by her uncle for a year. With no one to turn to for help or advice, the traumatised, introvert girl resorted to suicide to end her tortured existence.

Case II: Sujata, a 24-year-old professional, was deeply disturbed by her boss’s repeated sexual innuendoes. Unable to figure out what to do, and not quite knowing whether the Supreme Court guidelines on sexual harassment were foolproof, she quit her job. However, the problem persists: she is faced with a similar crisis at her new workplace.

Asha might be dead, but for those like Sujata, there may still be hope. The state government’s social welfare department, in collaboration with Calcutta Telephones and five local non-governmental organisations, has launched five helplines for women in distress.

Tormented women will be offered help in various different ways if they dial the numbers 10921, 10922, 10923, 10924 and 10925.

Calcutta Telephones is currently in the process of activating the numbers from 35 exchanges in the city and its outskirts, a senior Calcutta Telephones official said.

Association for Social Health in India, West Bengal branch, an NGO whose office is in south Calcutta, Soujatya in Jadavpur, Jayprakash Institute of Social Change in Ganganagar of Madhyamgram, Village Welfare Society in Ariadaha and Gana Unnayan Parshad in Rajarhat are the organisations which have come forward to offer their help and expertise in handling these and related problems that the victims dialling in may have.

Calcutta Telephones is now in the process of transforming one eight-digit number each of these local NGOs into five digit numbers, so that they can be remembered easily. “We hope to complete the work by the end of this month,” the Calcutta Telephones official said.

The 24-hour helplines will offer assistance ranging from legal advice and psychological support to providing shelter to the distressed women in their short-stay homes. Rehabilitating them in a bid to bring them back to normal life is also part of the project.

The free-of-cost aid is part of the Central government’s human resource development ministry’s scheme, Swadhar, for woman and child development. The Centre provides 75 per cent of the funds for the scheme and the state government, or non-governmental organisations that the state government is working with, provide 25 per cent of the funds, said director of the social welfare department S.S. Sundershekhar.

“We intend to guide them through trained counsellors and later offer shelter in our short-stay home and old-age home,” Ruma Roy, helpline operator of Village Welfare Society, said.

“In some cases, we will even take the help of the police, especially when it comes to rescuing women. We might not be able to give them money, but providing a shoulder to cry on is where we want to start,” Nipa Biswas, tele-counsellor of Gana Unnayan Parshad, said.

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