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Helpline hope for women in need

One-zero-nine-two is the number of the new, 24-hour helpline, manned by six voluntary organisations, for the benefit of women in need. This was one of the most significant things brought up by the panel discussion, followed by a question-and-answer session, organised by the West Bengal womenís commission on womenís right to safety in the public space. The function was held at the Moulali Yuva Kendra on Monday.

The theme had been marked as central to the year-long programme inaugurated by the commission on the last International Womenís Day. Discussions and exchanges with experts have been planned, the aim being better understanding, heightened awareness and the formulation of recommendations to be placed before the government.

After a brief welcome by commission chairperson Jasodhara Bagchi, each of the 12 panelists was given seven minutes to speak. In spite of the time constraint, certain issues emerged as urgent, which is all the more remarkable because the panelists came from various walks of life. Speaking of the role of the peopleís representative, Trinamul Congress MP Krishna Basu recalled Phoolan Deviís death and asked whether peopleís representatives were any safer than ordinary women. Both Basu and Chandrima Bhattacharya, president, Pradesh Mahila Congress, felt in their different ways that cross-party unity is essential when dealing with the problem of violence against women. Speakers from voluntary organisations and activist groups felt that both the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime against women were serious obstacles in the fight, and that the police, represented on the panel by deputy inspector-general Banibrata Basu, were not averse to taking advantage of the situation. The DIG, however, spoke of measures being taken to tackle crime against women, although Taj Mohammad, public prosecutor, Alipore court, brought out how an abundance of laws is useless when the related penalties are light. Pushpa Mishra, former principal of Bethune College and practising psychiatrist, spoke of the steps that can be taken by educational institutions to raise awareness, both among girls and boys.

Mahasveta Devi, who presided over the discussion, spoke of the urgent need for safe shelters for victimised women, because the fear of returning to the same household or the same locality deters women from making complaints. The establishment of short-stay homes by the government and non-government agencies is one of the six recommendations by the state womenís commission, announced at the end of the panel discussion.

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