Where is Cyber Cell in Bangalore?

Cyber Crimes are on rise on social media platforms. More and more young people are becoming victims of it. There has been an increase in number of cyber crime cases on other online platforms as well. There are various recourses that a victim can choose in such a scenario.

In such a scenario where does one go to file a complaint?

In Bangalore, Cyber Cell is at Palace Road ,inside the Carlton House, in the CID Headquarters. We went looking for this space.

Here is the address of Cyber Cell, Bangalore.

CID Annexe Building, Carlton House, #1, Palace Road, Bangalore-560001, Karnataka, India.

In conversation with Dr.Debarati Halder: Cyber crime and dealing with victim blaming

In light of the privacy debate, we at Hidden Pockets have been in conversation with Dr. Debarati Halder to understand the vulnerabilities and issues of safety in the cyber space, a world with blurry boundaries with respect to privacy.  In the first part of our three part interview with Dr. Debarati Halder, she discussed about personal data leaks on social media, what goes into resolving these issues and more. In the second part of this interview, Halder spoke about the most reported cyber crimes, cyber crimes that aren’t recognised by Indian laws, legal recourse for crimes like revenge pornography or cyber stalking, policy changes, among others. In the third and final part of this interview, she speaks about cyber forensic, police training that is given, avoiding victim blaming, among others.

Cyber forensic:

What is included in cyber forensic?

When you get some evidence, to handle these evidences you need to have specific training, especially with respect to cyber crime. How to collect digital evidences especially with hardware and software? The training that you need to have to handle this is called cyber forensics. Cyber forensics tells officers how to handle digital data especially for tracking and criminal law purposes. Some universities are also offering a course on cyber forensic.

How do you say cyber forensic comes into the picture for a crime?

When you are tracking the evidences, you need to know about cyber forensics. In many cases, be it hacking or creation of fake profiles by morphing, the police officer may include some habitual hackers (to the their list of suspects). If the police officer does not know about cyber forensics or cyber law, it will then go to some middle man who will enjoy his own position but may not give full information to the police. If cyber forensics is improved, I think it will definitely help the police officers and also the victim.

Training given to police

What is the training given to police in cyber forensic?

There are two types of training. One is at the grass root level. When a person is already in the service, it will be like a refresher course. They are called back to the Police Academy and experts are called in for the training on how to deal with online offences and work with the evidences. The other is advanced training. Cyber security or forensic experts or even senior police officers do this. This is usually with regard to how to manage the chain of evidences, how to track them, which are the software etc. These are police documents that are not usually shared with the public. This is confidential and told to only those who are taking training. These are the kinds of training that are given. Apart from this, police officers are repeatedly told about the laws, the trends including the new kinds of crimes and the training manual includes the laws that should be kept in mind while registering FIRs.

How does the transfer of trained officers affect the situation?

It definitely has an effect because you can’t expect all police officers to come with computer science background. I have been travelling all over the world. This is not a problem only in India. Whenever a new officer comes in, a new set of training needs to be given. The person should be remolded to look at certain kind of crime so there’s definitely a lack in the engagement.

Why would you say police officers don’t understand when women go to police station to file a complaint? Why would you say that happens?

Number one, it is because of the lack of understanding of the nature of the crime. Number two will be the lack of training. Sufficient training may not be given to these police officers. I have given some training as well. In my experience, I have seen that there is a lack of understanding from the police officers to understand or to know the present sorts of crimes happening.

Why do you think that happens in spite of the training?

They are trained. They are definitely trained but what happens is that they are given training only for certain offences. I wouldn’t say that it always happens. For example they are trained only to find out how hacking happens. Cyber forensic may be focused to find out from which IP address this particular content is coming but they are not trained to counsel the victim. So that may be the reason that the police officers do not generally cooperate with the victim.

What do you think needs to change about handling these cases?

There should be some focused laws. There should be proper training. Though police officers are trained, a better training mechanism should be brought in. These are two things that I would suggest. Bringing service providers under the Indian law is the one thing that is lacking here. Many training police academies and trainers are lacking in this particular aspect. And that’s why these websites refuse to give any data. How to make them give that data as per the Indian laws because our laws have extra-territorial jurisdiction? Many officers aren’t aware of this and do not exercise this. The victims also need to carefully see the policy guidelines and warning messages. Certain do’s and don’t’s have to be followed.

It appears that the victims face challenges on two levels; one with respect to handling the social media platform and the other being the police. What do you think needs to change with respect to handling the police to improve the situation for the victims?

Again I would say it is training. Also, the police officers handling the case should be empathetic. There are laws and there are experts coming to the academies and training the police but the human aspect is forgotten. The therapeutic effect of the law can be executed only by the police officers and not by anybody else. If a victim is having a particular problem, instead of blaming the victim or saying that you don’t understand what this is, the police counsel the victim. With respect to handling social media, I have seen that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have some good network with the ministry. This can be used properly. The problems then can be solved to a certain extent.

“Revenge pornography is not recognised by Indian law,” says Dr. Debarati Halder

While the Supreme Court of India takes its time to decide if privacy should be a fundamental right conferred upon Indian citizens, it may be useful to understand the different cyber crimes that lurk in the digital world, a space that isn’t always defined by clear boundaries. In the first part of our three part interview with Dr. Debarati Halder, she discusses about personal data leaks on social media, what goes into resolving these issues and more. In the second part of this interview, Halder speaks about the most reported cyber crimes, cyber crimes that aren’t recognised by Indian laws, legal recourse for crimes like revenge pornography or cyber stalking, policy changes, among others.

Most reported cyber crimes:

Which is the most reported type of cyber crime at the moment?

There are 3 types of online offences that are reported. One is crime against individual. This can be economic or interpersonal crime. When we talk about economic crimes, it could be phishing, bank fraud, notary scam, and others. Interpersonal crime could be stalking, creation of fake profile, online pornography or obscenity or hacking of personal digital data. Then there’s crime against the government, which is cyber terrorism as recognised by law. As per the Information Technology Act, such terrorist activities done through information technology or computer technology are punishable. Offences against government could be hacking websites or breaching the privacy of government data. Then there can also be offences against corporate bodies.

Which are the offenses that are not recognised by law?

Cyber bullying, cyber trolling and revenge pornography don’t have any focused law. What is the focused law that you are going to use for morphing or creation of fake profile? We recognize cyber obscenity but there is nothing about what can be revenge pornography or cyber bullying. We had 66A. We scrapped it because it was vague. It could have been amended. Then the Act would have also been an answer for some of the crimes like bullying or trolling. Without any laws for these crimes, women will have to go through different kinds of secondary victimization.

Challenges faced by women seeking legal recourse

What are the challenges faced by women seeking any recourse for any online crime or offenses against them?

Firstly, it is a social taboo. When a woman faces any kind of online harassment or crime, before going to the police station, she is usually told that the media could target her or her family if she went to the police. It becomes a social taboo to go to the police station to complain about any cyber crime. This is number one. Number two is victim blaming. Even if a woman has enough courage to go to the police station and report the crime, then there could be some officers (or head constables in the absence of the inspector or sub-inspector) who will not understand the nature of the crime. For example, if it is stalking, Indian Penal Code recognizes stalking or cyber stalking as an offence now. Traditionally trained police officers may not be able to understand it especially those who may be senior in age or experience. In that case, they blame the victim saying ‘Why did you do that. Because of you, this has happened.’ There can also be threats from intimate partners. For example, the woman gets afraid to go to the police if she is targeted by her ex-boyfriend, ex-husband or colleague with some fake profile or revenge pornography. If she goes to the police, the harasser then comes up with another kind of crime. It is this escalation of victimization that makes her avoid going to the police station again. When it is from an intimate partner, it becomes blackmailing. In case of offences that are not recognized by the law, nothing happens after the police take the FIR. And finally there’s also the liability of the website. They may not cooperate with the police. The police may not know how to deal with the website to get the data. These are the things that generally come up as challenges.

Legal recourse

What is the legal recourse available to victims from social media platforms on which such personal data is leaked?

There is Section 43A of the Information Technology Act which penalizes such kind of data breach and the responsible person or the body corporate. This means the specific functionary, institute or company who is responsible for maintaining the data. In that case, the victim can definitely ask for recourse. It is definitely compensatory jurisprudence. They can ask for compensation and there is also minimum punishment.

Can the same be applied if any data leak happens due to Aadhar as well?

Absolutely. It depends on the corroborative evidences that the victim shows from a particular website from where the information has been leaked. For instance, if a certain person’s privacy has been breached, he or she has to inform the police. Then the investigation will show if there was a lack of confidentiality with this particular company or its website. Accordingly, they can definitely be prosecuted.

The Aadhaar Act has no provision for people themselves to file a complaint. Will Section 43A be applicable then with Aadhaar?

If you define the term body corporate in a very broad sense, it can be covered. But because the Aadhaar Act is saying this, the government does not want to take the liability on their part for any offence that has been caused. But I also understand that there has been a statement made by a minister concerned that the whole issue is so confidential that nobody can breach it. See there is a middle-man from whose website the information can be leaked. This can definitely happen but then again it depends upon the evidences and who was at the root of it, who was the person at fault, who has been negligent etc.

How long do cyber cells cases take to be resolved?

If it is an inter-personal crime and the victim is bringing all the evidences and he or she knows the person who has caused the crime, then that can be solved very quickly. Then there is something called police mediation where the person need not to go to the court but the case will be mediated within the police station and the harasser can be warned and can also be taken into custody. But in other cases, although the law says that there is a stipulated time within which the case should be resolved, it may take some time from the jurisdiction.

What are the policy level changes that have happened overtime with respect to cyber crime against women?

With respect to policy level changes, I would say that the Ministry has become more sensitive. Even the Ministry of Women and Child Development has its own Facebook page where they are accepting details regarding any such offences. They have assured that NGOs and the stakeholders can partner with them for some help. I have been a resource person for National Commission for Women. We have had several meetings regarding what should be done. If we are not able to help the victim as such, there is a network where we refer cases to the ministry so that the ministry tries to do something about it. These are some of the policy level changes happening but I’m still doubtful about the positive results.

What about the legal level changes that have happened over time with respect to managing cyber crime?

One very noticeable change happened in 2013 after the Nirbhaya rape case. Cyber stalking and voyeurism especially against women were recognised by the India Penal Code. Now we have a provision for punishing cyber stalkers including physical stalkers and also for voyeurism, especially privacy violation like clicking private pictures and distributing it without the consent of the particular person. I think these are wonderful things that have happened over time.

What should you do when your personal data leaks on social media, explains Dr. Debarati Halder

Be it photo number, location, photos, most often, we share our personal data on social media platforms without giving it a real thought. And there are times when this data gets shared on social media platforms without our permission. Our personal data goes into wrong hands and gets leaked out in the open as revenge pornography. People even get stalked or harassed on these platforms. What happens to privacy on these platforms? What goes into resolving these issues? What can be done when you face such a situation and what really happens? To understand the answers to these questions and more, Hidden Pockets had chat with Dr. Debarati Halder, Advocate and Honorary Managing Director, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling. She is also the Founder -Secretary, South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. In the first part of this series, we have looked at understanding the response of social media platforms and police officers to cases related to online crime, victim blaming, pointers to be safe online, among others.

Things to watch out for as a victim

Hidden Pockets: What should anyone (especially women) facing any online crime like harassment, voyeurism, stalking etc do when they face such a situation?

Debarati Halder: The first thing that anyone especially women should not do is revert back with any kind of threatening statement. This will establish the crime. Say for example the person is being targeted for revenge pornography, instead of finding out who is the person who has committed the crime; the victim should take the evidence straight to the police office. Take the evidence and report the matter to the website concerned. In that way, the collection of the evidence or starting of the investigation can be done. Next thing is do not fall into traps. Things like talking to strangers, getting intimate with an online friend should be avoided. These things are still happening. Discussing personal data with unknown persons should be avoided.

Social media and its response to online crime

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of any cases when social media platforms refused to give information or block the offender completely?

Halder: Yes I know. We do also get cases where the offender may have been blocked. But this is not the answer to the problem. When you block one profile, that person can again come on Facebook and social media and create another profile. Blocking is not the total answer.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think such a situation should be handled?

Halder: Once the profile has been blocked, the victim has to take all the evidences that she has and go to the police with the link. It is with this link that the police find the IP address of the user. Essentially, they (victim) have to go to the police station and register a case. Otherwise the harassers will continue and so will the harassment by these offenders. The victim can also contact Facebook to remove the images.

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of cases when social media platforms refused to block the offenders completely? And what was the action taken in those cases? And what was the reason given by social media platforms?

Halder: Yes many times. Unfortunately no action was taken (in most cases). It is very common. Social media platforms ask you to come through the police as the channel. There is also the legal machinery channel that is you go through the court. Often the police may not know how exactly to contact the social media platform. Social media platforms have wonderful policy that says that they will not reveal the information of the account holder to anybody come what may. This is the reason you see so many new items that Facebook or Google do not reveal the information or the identity about the offenders even though the police have taken the cases to the court. This is the reason because of this policy.

The platforms say that they are taking action however they will not reveal the identity of the offender. This is because of their policy guidelines. Their policy is guided under the U.S laws. Our laws have got territorial nature, which means our laws especially the Information Technology Act can be effective for these websites even situated outside. Here comes the legal conflict. The websites may be situated outside the country but they may choose to abide by our laws. They have to then go to the U.S courts (to resolve this case). This is a long process. This is the reason for them to push back saying that they don’t reveal the identity (of the offender). Again in these cases, the victim cannot do anything. The matter needs to be taken to the court. With a good lawyer, something could happen. Then again, it is not so for all cases. In some case, social media platforms have given details of the person because the police officers could prove that it was a grave crime.

Sexting, revenge pornography and victim blaming

Hidden Pockets: What was done in the cases of revenge pornography at least in the cases that you handled personally?

Halder: In some cases, I was able to help them. On their (victim’s) behalf, I could successfully inform Facebook about the revenge pornography that was taking place. The offensive photos were removed. It is only a part of the recourse for the victim. We ask the victim to go to the police. With the existing available laws, victims can go to the police and ask for help. The offender should be punished. With this, I have got very little positive feedback because the victims undergo victim blaming, police apathy etc. One part of the case has been successful but the legal part has not always been successful. It is not that it was never successful but not always.

Hidden Pockets: With respect to revenge pornography and times changing, do you think it is important to start accepting legally and from the point of view of the police that sharing of images and videos have become a part of the culture when two people are in an intimate relationship?

Halder: This is called sexting. We know about texting and this is called sexting. This is happening, not only among teenagers but also among adults. This is happening. If you are going for it, then it may invite more trouble. Even if that person is completely trustworthy, that person’s device may be compromised or hacked so we then won’t know from where the picture might have leaked. So it should be avoided. Even though it has become a habit I would say even then it should be avoided I would say.

Hidden Pockets: Sure but what I’m trying to understand here is if the people handling these cases have understood that something called sexting is happening, especially with respect to victim blaming. Have they understood it?

Halder: No, majority of the police officers that I have seen who deal with these crimes especially revenge porn generated from sexting, they are not able to accept this as a common behaviour. When it is a question of victim blaming, the woman is generally asked why did you share such pictures. With this, the case is usually closed because they (the police) don’t know how to deal with the case. So yes, people who are dealing with these cases, I would say, are still not able to take sexting as a social habit.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think that can be changed? Do you think such a change has a role to play in how the system works?

Halder: Personally speaking even I’m against disseminating such photographs because it may invite danger. Now that it has become a social habit to a certain extent, we need to change our own mentality. We need to be broad-minded. One way is that when you are sharing such photographs, you need to also understand that you are inviting danger. The moment you are disseminating a picture, you should be broad enough to understand that there is a risk involved in it. With respect to the police officers who handle these cases, should avoid victim blaming and treat the victims as victims. Otherwise this will happen. This is similar to when a girl goes out and she is raped, instead of blaming her for her gender or her dress, the police should treat her as a victim. Similarly, in the online cases also this should be done.

Is anyone else reading your Tinder messages in India?

“How does privacy matter? Nobody is reading my messages and I am making the choice to put these messages out there on social media platform,” asks P, my friend  who seems to finally have cracked the Tinder Emojis.

Every  time I talk about privacy, people ask me what is there to hide? Every time I cover my camera on my laptop, people think I am being paranoid.

People don’t think there is anything called private data and if there is, it would simply be sensitive data that people would anyways not share. And worst I don’t think anyone realises that we don’t have a Privacy Law in India while Tinder India is busy making sansakri ads for its Indian audience and getting more users on a daily basis.

Sharing of personal details on social media platforms

We all have been sharing our information on most of the social media platforms. We happily share our locations, our private moments through images, our phone numbers, our email addresses, our travel plans There are so many platforms where  traces of our information gets saved up on different formats through chats, messages, sexting and in many other forms. Then there are spaces where we end up giving our information  because the design demands so. Additionally, now with introduction of Aadhaar we have all of our information linked to one common mobile number.

Have you received the message from your bank to link your account with Aadhaar number? Have you received the message from your network provider to link your account with Aadhaar number? Have you received the message from Shaadi.com to link your account with Aadhaar? What if Tinder also gets into this?

Personal data linked to Aadhaar

All our different sorts of information is getting connected to one Aadhaar number : be it our bank details, medical details and in near future, may be even our dating details? People argue that all of this information is safely secure and this central repository is for our protection. It will keep us safe, while some call it convenience because life becomes easier with one uniform identity connecting all. But for many of us, there is a clear fear of lack of protection for all this data that is getting collected in the name of better infrastructure.

This is where the idea of ‘sensitive data’ gets muddled up. For some, it might be the information that they use on Tinder and for others, it might be information related to bank or medical office. Does all our data have equal protection under law?  What is this ‘sensitive data’ that people think require to be private? What if some of our sexting gets hacked or leaked out? Will state authorities actually protect our right to send messages to strangers on a dating app? Do we really have a say with regard to protecting our messages from hacking, stealing of information and any other form of cyber crimes?

No privacy law in India, at least not yet

Since 2010, it has been recognised by both the government and the public that India needs privacy legislation, specifically one that addresses use of personal data. At present some of the data protection standards are found in the Information Technology Act, 2002 as part of IT Rules, 2011. What really happens when someone does share/steal your information?

The Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 (‘Bill’does not provide any definition of ‘privacy’, but includes sexual preferences as part of it.This definition is different and more enhanced from the definition provided under The Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011.  There is an assumption that consent would be taken from the user before collecting any of the sensitive data. The bill does provide for punishment if there is any violation.  He/she shall be punishable with imprisonment and may also be liable to fine. But this a Bill, in pending, until then the user’s data has no protection?

Privacy Bill is not just meant for activists, it should be the right of every citizen irrespective of whether or not their information is shared on any online platform. Abortion data might be as sensitive as bank details. Consent should be the basis for any sharing of information and every information needs to be protected.

A lot of sensitive information gets exchanged on dating platforms, on platforms where we are having a regular conversation. We might be flirting, sharing or just be sexting. This is all information that we would like only the parties involved to read. But if it does get leaked out, whom do we actually hold responsible?

People ask me to be more responsible while sharing information, for millions of Tinder users, I think so it is time to actually seek some accountability from all these stakeholders. We want our privacy! We dont our details to be linked to some number for better infrastructure. We want legal protection.

On 19th July, 2017  a constitution bench will decide whether there is indeed a fundamental right to privacy in India.  Even if we don’t care about privacy as an issue, for all the Tinder users, this might just become a serious issue.

Abortion in Pandemic: Reality Check at the end of 2020

2020 was the Annus Horribilis. The COVID-19 pandemic shook the foundations of our world. When many world leaders equated the preparations to tackle the pandemic to a war footing and asked the public to make collective sacrifices, little did we all delve into those exaggerated declarations from the leaders to sift through and analyze how best are the leaders equipping their countries to tackle the pandemic. In the initial months of the pandemic, as different countries declared different timelines for total lockdown, there was little clarity about what is essential and not essential services. Amidst all the chaos, it came across as if the government expected that all bodily functions such as menstruation, pregnancy can all be on pause mode during the pandemic!

In India, in the first weeks of the lockdown when the whole country was brought to a standstill, when the busiest of the busy roads were as empty as a clear blue sky, when people would get out of their houses only to buy groceries and medicines, there were a group of outraged netizens and activists who brought to the leaders’ attention that basic menstrual hygiene products were not declared as essential goods! After numerous likes, shares, comments, retweets amplification in the net world, knocks on the government’s doors became so loud that eventually it was declared by the government that menstrual hygiene products are essential too! Meanwhile, numerous people in the country were being turned away from hospitals and clinics when they wanted an abortion during the lockdown. The reason for denying them abortion: not an essential service!

Well, war cry indeed, citizens, activists and NGOs made to have the abortion declared as an essential service and essential service thus it became, but how many in fact were able to get a safe and legal abortion during the lockdown and post lockdown, even though abortion was declared as an essential service?

As part of the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF), in the initial weeks of the unlock in India, Hidden Pockets Collective did a tele-audit of hospitals and clinics in four districts of Karnataka viz Bengaluru Urban, Mysore, Shimoga and Ballari. We wanted to find out whether safe, legal and most importantly non-judgemental abortion especially for single women, continues to be out of bounds even during the pandemic when unplanned pregnancies are on the rise. The findings were worrisome.

With the year almost ending now, and more than 6 months have passed since the initial weeks of unlock, we set out for another round of tele-audit calls to see how have the access and availability of safe, legal and non-judgemental abortion improved/ restored in this time duration. The findings were a mixed bag!

Serial Abortionists!

Dr. A from a leading private hospital in Ballari, whom we had spoken to in the first round of tele-audits in June/ July, where she came across as very sympathetic to the challenges in accessing safe and legal termination of pregnancies and even agreed to provide MMA (Medically Managed Abortion) for single women under 7 weeks of gestation, was triggered this time when we used the word non-judgemental abortion! She blasted at us and said that she has been getting numerous cases in these last few months where women came to her for MMA pills and they keep coming back to her repeatedly, instead of taking contraceptives. She said these women are “serial abortionists” and she will not give non-judgemental abortion but give them an earful for not using contraceptives. To quote her further, “You want a non-judgemental abortion? Well, I will make sure I give these women a hard lesson when they come to me for abortion.”

When we reminded Dr. A how open and understanding she was when we last spoke to her, she said, “Agreed. But I will not want this hospital as a safe and non-judgemental space for women to get abortions. This is not a walk-in and walk-out space where they all can come, take the pill and have an abortion and keep coming back again and again.” 

At our repeated presentation of facts that the pandemic, especially the lockdown, has worsened many people’s access to contraceptives and many doctors are not helping them to get a safe and legal abortion and that  forces them to approach quacks, Dr. A had a pat reply: “These women are not dumb. They are smart enough to know where to get an abortion. If they were so worried about pregnancy, they should have made it a priority to use contraception.” She strongly said that she will not help women get an abortion and questioned us with, “Do you realize what is an abortion? It is killing a baby! You are baby killers!”

Dr. A was firm on her new stand that neither she nor the hospital that she works for will  give any abortion. As the last word she said, “If you need help and support to give women good guidance and counselling on contraceptives, they can come here. But I shall not be a party to give women abortion. They keep coming back here, again and again, with some silly excuses or the other for not taking contraceptives. I will make it a point to give them a good hearing henceforth so that they don’t come back here ever again for abortion.”

Pharmacies: the shortcut to abortion

Dr. B from a well reputed private hospital in Shimoga was far more approachable and less guarded since our last call. She said that women, married or unmarried can get a safe, legal and non-judgemental abortion at the hospital. Bracing for the second wave of the pandemic, she said that if the pregnancy is above 20 weeks, the concerned parties will need to move legally, that is through a notarized legal affidavit which needs to be filed in and abortion can proceed only through legal sanction. 

For unmarried women, she reiterated her statements from our earlier calls that it is best that her parents are involved. She again recounted numerous incidents as in the earlier calls, where women were abandoned by their male company or them creating scenes in the hospital. She also narrated a recent incident wherein a couple who were engaged to be married had come for an abortion and the fiancé had abandoned the woman. The hospital was left with no option but to inform her parents as consent was needed for surgical procedures.

When we posed the question that if women are not in a position to involve her parents, Dr B. answered that any female close relatives like a sister will be sufficient. We asked her that

even if that is not a possibility but an organization that works in SRHR is there as a patient bystander to take care of the woman, she said that is also okay, as long as the NGO is legal and the proof for registration etc are submitted when the woman needs legalized consent such as in the case of surgeries. She highlighted that the hospital has given abortion to unmarried women too in these past months, and all the hospital is aiming for by having these systems in place is that they want minimal trouble by preventing patient abandonment.

Dr. B shared with us a pattern she has seen emerge during these last few months. She said she has had numerous cases where single women self-administered medical abortion pills and developed complications in abortion. On asking these women where they got the medical abortion pills from they said that they procured it from the pharmacies. Dr. B said that perhaps these women found it difficult to approach a doctor to get abortion due to the cultural taboo, or could be that they wanted to cut the costs of medical expenses that they can incur when they get an abortion done through a doctor at a hospital. Whatever may the reason be, Dr. B said it is highly risky as women take these medical abortion pills without any medical supervision. She elaborated on various complicated cases she had to intervene because the women took the medications all wrong, sometimes even overdosing. She suggested that something needs to be done such that pharmacies do not continue dispensing medical abortion pills without medical supervision. In exasperation she explained how in the end, it is always the doctors like her, who have to handle the complications and save the women’s lives when such ill advised and non supervised usage of medical abortion pills occur.

The POCSO dilemmas and love:

Dr. C, a doctor at a government hospital in Mysore, whom we spoke to for the first time in our audits, came as a breath of fresh air. In our earlier audits in June/July we had no response from any government hospital in Mysore. However, in our December calls, we were finally able to have a breakthrough.

For Dr. C, conversations on safe, legal and non-judgemental abortion for women (single or married) were all irrelevant as she said the government hospital is the go-to place for any woman. What she wanted to bring to our notice was that in these last few months there were increasing cases of minors who had come to the hospital for abortion! She said, in many cases she was put in a difficult position due to specifics of certain cases such as two adolescents who are in love or just wanted to explore sexual matters, but she had to report the matter to the police according to the laws of the country, such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The problematic part of POCSO is that those adolescents who have had consensual sex, are in fact punishable! And to add more woe to the misery, the legal age of consent in the country is in fact 18. Dr. C opined that laws in the country should change to validate consensual sex amongst adolescents because she strongly felt that the adolescents suffer social stigma and ostracization all due to the punitive nature of the POCSO Act. 

Too hectic! Too busy?

The government hospitals in Bengaluru Urban, be it the referral hospitals or the maternity hospitals or the tertiary hospitals, must have had hectic days in these last few months because most of them still did not have responsive landlines. If at all the phone did get picked up, the receiver had no clue about abortion details that the hospital provided. And to talk to the doctor was just impossible as she/he was either in the O.T or in the ward rounds. Requests for the personal number of the doctors were met with the replies “not possible.”

Conclusion:

The second wave of infection is looming ahead. Vaccinations are planned to be rolled out on a priority basis as determined by the government. Questions are always remaining whether there will be another lockdown in the coming months, whether it will just be a night curfew. Whatever may the events be, one thing that needs to be planned well ahead of time by the government who constantly espouses war footing to tackle the pandemic is: women should have access to a safe, legal and non-judgemental abortion because abortion is a time sensitive matter. 

Writer:

Dr. Nishitha Aysha Ashraf is Programme Associate for SAAF Project at the Hidden Pockets Collective. She completed her B.A. Journalism & Communication (2010) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (2015) from Manipal, Karnataka. She has covered the Nipah outbreak in Kerala during her stint as Health Reporter with The News Minute (2018). The reportage furthered her interest to be a key player in public health/ community health. Her internship and work at SOCHARA – Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action (2019) was instrumental to learn more about the People’s Health Movement. She is keen on exploring the SRHR issues of Kerala, especially those amongst the Muslim and Christian communities.

Adolescent Sexuality: the Age of Raging Hormones and Punishments?

Alice* was 17 years old when she discovered that she was pregnant. She was in a steady relationship and had a sexual relationship with her boyfriend. Pregnancy was the least bit of concern for Alice and her guy amidst their day to day lives of being a teenager. However, on discovering the pregnancy, both their worlds came crashing down. Alice plucked up the courage and went to a government hospital to get advice on terminating the unwanted pregnancy. She only had her best female friend, who was also 17 years old, to accompany and support her.

Chaithra* was just a few weeks short of turning 18 years old. When she discovered that she is pregnant, she did not wait for weeks to turn 18 and then get medical help. She immediately reached out to a well reputed clinic that provides medical and surgical termination of pregnancies. They did not ask for her ID proof and she had covered up the fact that she was still not yet a major. However, within a few days, her parents confronted the organization and accused the doctor of influencing their daughter -a minor- to get an abortion. The organization now makes it mandatory to show ID proof to get abortion services.

Love, Sex and Adolescence:

Every person who has passed through adolescence knows that those years are not just about the vanity of wanting to look good, but also years of wanting to get noticed, to be admired and  to be loved. A sneaked love letter or a Priya Warrier style wink from an admirer can get hearts racing during those giddy years of adolescence. The boring school lectures are a quality time to daydream about a future where you and your love interest are romancing away like the hero and heroine of the latest movie you had watched. Everything goes well until you get hit by a chalk piece thrown at you by the teacher. Everything goes well until your parents discover that you are in a relationship with a person they do not approve of. Everything goes well until you discover your partner or you are pregnant.

The Adult World & Adolescence:

India has numerous laws in place to ensure that harsh punishments are meted out to perpetrators of violence, sexual offences against children including the adolescents. What many of these laws, especially the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, does not take into account is the agency of a child or an adolescent. Matters like consent, sexuality are clearly matters of adults and strictly adults alone, as apparent in these laws. It seems adolescents are living in a bubble wrap and only when they hit the golden number of 18, they emerge as a person capable of giving consent, taking consent and having a sexual life. Till then their bodies and minds are oblivious to sexuality! At least that is the impression given by all these existing laws which clearly does not acknowledge adolescent sexuality.

SOS messages to Hidden Pockets Careline:

Careline services run by the Hidden Pockets is the first ever Whatsapp counselling service in India for the youth on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Occasionally, the Careline do get cases where a distressed adolescent is seeking help to know about abortion and where to get an abortion. However, with the POCSO Act in place, Hidden Pockets hands are tied down to offer any direct help. In these cases, the viable solution for Hidden Pockets is to connect the adolescent to a network of NGOs working exclusively for adolescents. 

Aisha Lovely George, Executive Coordinator and Sexual and Reproductive health Counsellor at Hidden Pockets, who is also an Enfold India certified peer educator, says, “All the adolescents who have reached out to the Careline were very scared about the situation they were in. In their anguished frame of mind, they can get very guarded about giving any details, even about the SRHR crisis they are in.”

The usual portrayal of adolescents being irresponsible, careless and/or naive and ignorant do not go well with Aisha. Based on her extensive work with adolescents, she holds the opinion that adolescents are far more responsible than what the adult world can give them the credit for. She points to the fact that even adults who are in their 20’s and 30’s are very uncomfortable in approaching Hidden Pockets and healthcare service providers for an abortion, but adolescents pick up the courage and approach the necessary authorities for intervention, even at the cost of getting entangled in the POCSO initiated by the doctors who handle their cases.

“It takes time and patience to earn their trust. And only after they strongly feel that we are trustworthy, they open up to us. And once they open up, it’s a downpour!” says Aisha. She strongly feels that these adolescents were dying to talk to someone to unburden themselves of the stress they were in. And at Hidden Pockets, these adolescents are given an empathetic and non-judgemental ear. But the help ends there as Hidden Pockets can intervene directly only for adults.

Adolescents and the big big world of internet:

Hidden Pockets and Hidden Pockets Collective, both heavily use technology to make information on sexual and reproductive health, relevant and relatable to the youth. While Hidden Pockets Collective focuses on advocacy works, Hidden Pockets works as a constant presence to help the youth in accessing safe, legal, affordable and non-judgemental healthcare services on sexual and reproductive health.

The social media platforms and emails are the portals through which the youth make their first contact with Hidden Pockets. Athira Purushothaman, Digital Advocacy Manager at Hidden Pockets says, “the adolescents are very much worried about their privacy.” She explains that the taboos and cultural disapprovals which are associated with anything sexual about adolescents in our country, make them feel that they are always at risk of being discovered and humiliated. It is only because of the fact that Hidden Pockets is a safe space, and respects their autonomy and privacy that they come to Hidden Pockets in a large number. “Irrespective of the courage they have shown in taking charge of their sexual and reproductive health, they always say that they have done something wrong by being sexual,” notes Athira based on her interactions with the adolescents on digital platforms.

Jasmine Lovely George, Founder, Co-ordinator of Knowledge Production at Hidden Pockets Collective, says, “adolescents do not trust the state. When they come to Hidden Pockets instead of the state, it is very loud and clear that something is not right with the state.” Stressing on the problematic POCSO, Jasmine elaborates that an adolescent girl who is outside the parental approval of her own sexuality becomes in fact the subject of the state!

The world of the internet is often the safe space for the adolescents to feel connected, heard and supported. In an offline world where they can be judged and made to feel lesser, it is the social media platforms that offer comfort and solace. Also with search engines, churning out information on things that they want to know, adolescents who have access to technology, are far adept in understanding sexuality. However, the flip side of these is that not all adolescents can discern what is right and what is wrong in the sea of net information. Also, not all adolescents are safe from lurking sexual predators in the net world.

Athira says, “Alternative approaches, such as age verification, which is as strict as getting a Voter ID card, are very much needed in the tech spaces to prevent the adolescents from entering certain online spaces or accessing certain information.” She, however, maintains that no adolescents should be barred from the larger ecosystem of the internet as they rely heavily on tech to empower themselves through the diverse support networks. 

Laws to Protect or to Punish?

At the Karnataka consultation on ‘Rights Based Approach to Child Marriage’, co-organized by CLPR (Centre of Law and Policy Research) and CPR (Centre for Reproductive Rights), on March 9, 2019, there were first hand accounts from people and organizations that work for adolescents. From the anecdotes shared, it was clear that laws which came into existence with an intent to protect the adolescents are in fact punishing the adolescents, irrespective of the contexts.

POCSO being misused

Ashika Shetty (Enfold, CWC member) brought to light how POCSO can be misused to settle personal scores between families. She narrated an incident where a family pressed charges against a 21-year-old man for sexually assaulting their daughter. It later emerged that both the young man and the girl were in love and looking forward to getting married when the girl turns 18. However, her parents did not approve of their relationship as he belonged to a lower caste and disliked his family. And thus they manipulated the POCSO law to put the man behind the bars.

Naivety and law

K. Raghavendra Bhat (UNICEF Child Protection Project) narrated an incident which showed how the Prohibition of Child Marriage (PCMA) Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act can act against naive people who are not aware of the laws and who only had best interests of their children when they solemnised the marriage. A couple with their respective parents from a North Karnataka village visited the Udupi Krishna temple to pray for the health and well being of their expecting first born. The pregnant wife developed some health problems and she was hospitalized. The doctor on taking case history realized the woman was only 17 and he alerted the police. Soon the police and the associated officers for child rights and welfare got involved. The parents of both the couple were at a loss for words and all they could do was break down in helplessness. The couple too were at their wit’s end with all the sudden influx of law and order in their otherwise blissful marital life. The officer narrated how it was a complex spot for him to be in, as none of the parties involved had no clue about the various laws and all they wanted was a happily married life.

Are Laws Alone the Way Forward?

Jasmine points to the inconsistencies in the state’s approach to adolescent sexuality. 

Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has provisions for adolescents to get help from the Adolescent Reproductive Sexual Health (ARSH) Clinic. The ARSH provides counselling on sexual & reproductive health issues. However, the state does not have any definitive law that validates adolescent sexuality. Under the existing laws, an adolescent can be prosecuted for having any sexual act, be it a mere kissing or  sexual intercourse, with another adolescent, irrespective of them both engaging in it consensually. 

The evolving capacities of adolescents and their autonomy have little value under the existing laws. Consensual sexual activities/ sexual exploration of adolescents can turn around and be treated as matters of prosecution. The punitive nature of the laws refuses to treat adolescents as juveniles in conflict with the law. 

Aisha suggests, “POCSO is valuable when really an adolescent is sexually exploited. They need to be made aware that such laws exist so that they know whom to approach for help when they are sexually abused. However, an overarching application of the law will only deter the adolescents from getting the right information, advice and help for their sexual and reproductive health.”

Jasmine says, “The laws governing juvenile justice are far more progressive than POCSO and such an approach is needed when it comes to adolescents.” She strongly believes that restorative justice and not punitive measures should be the way forward. The existing laws such as POCSO do not take into account the scarring and trauma that an adolescent undergoes due to its punitive nature. And the reality is that adolescents can be in love, can have sexual exploration, and can even elope. 

At Hidden Pockets and Hidden Pockets Collective, all the team members stress the need to have Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), not just for adolescents but also for parents to dismantle cultural taboos, shame and honour. The team also believes that this education should also expand to the training of lawyers and judges such that they understand the contemporary nuances of adolescent sexuality and technology. As for consent, the discussions at the policy and advocacy levels should not just be about the age of consent, but also what it means to give consent and what it means to take consent. 

*names changed to protect the privacy

Writer:

Dr. Nishitha Aysha Ashraf is Programme Associate for SAAF Project at the Hidden Pockets Collective. She completed her B.A. Journalism & Communication (2010) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (2015) from Manipal, Karnataka. She has covered the Nipah outbreak in Kerala during her stint as Health Reporter with The News Minute (2018). The reportage furthered her interest to be a key player in public health/ community health. Her internship and work at SOCHARA – Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action (2019) was instrumental to learn more about the People’s Health Movement. She is keen on exploring the SRHR issues of Kerala, especially those amongst the Muslim and Christian communities.

16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence #OrangeTheWorld

The grasp of domestic violence perpetrators has tightened in times of the pandemic in India. Abuse victims are distanced from their regular support systems making it difficult for them to call out for help. On 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Novel Coronavirus. Within a fortnight, the National Commission of Women reported a 100% rise in complaints of domestic violence cases. A nationwide WhatsApp number was then launched by the NCW to provide an alternate method for women to report domestic abuse.

Hidden Pockets Collective run a campaign on Gender-based violence during the 16 days of Activism 2020 (25/Nov to 10/Dec) where we feature stories of violence from different regions in India and abroad. We have partnered with YUWA (Nepal), YANSL (Sri Lanka), Vishaka NGO (Rajasthan, India), Global Concerns India (Bangalore, Karnataka), Bembala Foundation (India), Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled (India), and an independent activist from Karnataka, India (Cynthia Stephen).

Stories of Violence

A 44 year old woman, married with three daughters aged 21, 16 and 14. In April, she called us around 1:00 AM. Her husband had been beating her and the children daily. Her husband, having previously worked abroad, now returned and opened two small hotels. Due to lockdown, hotels were closed and the family struggled and were forced to live off their savings. She went to the police who refused to help. She claimed to us that her husband paid them ‘bakshish’ frequently. The police stated that domestic violence does not fall under their purview. They advised her to go to court or the women’s helpline. The GCI team visited the family house. After some discussion, the husband left the house peacefully, promising not to be violent again. We had taken the Hoysala with us and the police ‘warned’ him before leaving. The violence restarted after a couple of days and now, there was no more food at home.

After lockdown ended in August, he opened the hotels and assigned his wife to handle the cash box at one hotel, as he managed the other. At home, the violence continued.

In October, the mother and children decided to act. We assisted them in filing a police case under 498A – cruelty in marriage. As a result, the husband was banned from the house. The woman was out of work. Her brother and mother was helping the family while she looked for a job

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A 31-year-old female migrant worker returning home from India’s tech hub of Bengaluru, was gang raped by three males after she was left alone in one of the quarantine centre of Nepal. As per the victim, the perpetrators were actually two volunteers and a health worker employed at the centre.

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A young Trans woman was harassed while walking on the road with her elder sister. The men recorded a video of them eve teasing the sisters and uploaded it onto social media. She has been often subjected to online bullying, especially on her TikTok profile.

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A 12-year-old girl from Bajhang district in western Nepal went missing on September 23. After a long search, her family members found her semi-naked body at a nearby temple. An autopsy report confirmed that the girl, who belonged to the Dalit community (ethnic minority), was sexually assaulted prior to her death. She was heading to a shed, thirty minutes away from her home. She was raped and murdered by an eighteen year old man. He had a criminal history but family members and the wider community always hide such crimes and don’t take any legal action.

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I was 23 years old when I got pregnant with my boyfriend. I met him at a party and fell in love with him. I discovered that I was pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown. I was unable to access pharmacies to buy pills. Then, a friend of mine helped me find pills all the way from the Eastern Province. Since traveling from city to city was prohibited, I had to rely on the postal system. The pills took one and a half weeks to reach Colombo. I took the pills and went through the procedure alone, afraid and under no medical supervision.

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I was 18 years old, studying at a popular girl’s school in Colombo, when I realised I was pregnant. It all started while staying at my father’s friend’s home. When the lockdown was imposed, I decided to stay in Colombo without going home because the situation in the country was uncertain. One day, my father’s friend came into my room and forced himself on me. He threatened to murder me if I told anyone about the incident. Three or four weeks passed and I noticed that my period was late and I decided to walk to a nearby pharmacy. The pregnancy test came back positive and I decided to travel to the nearest government hospital amidst the lockdown. The ‘tuk’ I hired through an app was stopped by a police check-point and I explained that I was travelling to the hospital since I am not feeling well. After I reached the hospital I explained the incident to the hospital staff. The hospital staff took good care of me. They took measures to inform the police about my father’s friend and to inform my family about my situation. My parents were devastated after hearing my story but I have no other option but to carry a pregnancy caused because I was sexually abused. I even had to stop my schooling due to the pregnancy.

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Saritha (Name changed to protect identity), an HIV+ve 29 year old women, was 5 months pregnant when forced out of the house by her boyfriend during the first lockdown. She claimed to call the helpline for women in the police commissioner’s office but received no response. She walked around without any water or food and finally rested at a bus stop, hoping somebody would help. She remembered Global Concerns India’s number from a workshop she attended and called GCI. GCI arranged for a friend to give her some water and food to eat.They also instructed her to call 181, which she tried with no luck. I then tried the same and a female police officer answered after 30 seconds of instructions.

Brinda Adige from GCI quickly raised the issue and requested her to direct a Hoysala to the spot and find some shelter for this pregnant woman. Shockingly, this woman police insisted that Brinda tell her the name, address and phone number stating she would not accept me reporting this matter otherwise. Brinda tried again going into deeper details like colour of Saritha’s clothes and bus stop number. Yet, nobody reached her even when Brinda called her four hours later. She requested her friend to give Saritha more water.

Brinda called 181 again and got no response. Sh called friends at DWCD who promised to attend to the case. However, nobody reached her, even hours later. Brinda was forced to call ACS and coordinate with 7-8 officials from DWDC in addition to the local police. Two hours later, the woman was picked up from the bust stop and taken to a shelter.

She is doing better now, but has not filed against the boyfriend. Additionally, no action has been taken on grounds of negligence against duty bearers/helpline staff/police.

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Three years ago, 29-year-old Vimli from Salumbar block, married a Man named Kailash from the same area. This was both their second marriages. Kailash had a daughter from his first marriage but wanted a son and therefore, remarried Vimli. They were blessed with a baby boy. But, after a few months of their son’s birth, Kailash’s family began abusing her verbally & physically. They rented another house for Vimli some distance away from their house.

Sometimes, Kailash would visit Vimli with their son but over time, stopped bringing the child along. The abuse toward Vimli continued and they ultimately moved her to another village 15 KM away. During the lockdown, Kailash beat Vimli. He also locked her up in her house before leaving. Finally, Vimli’s neighbour supported her by calling Visakha’s helpline. The counsellor reached Vimli’s house and found her locked in. The counsellor also tried convincing Kailash to release Vimli and finally succeeded. After this incident, he stays with her at night but stopped supporting her. The counsellor again intervened, causing him to stop visiting the house altogether.

The counsellor was able to help Vimli by providing her with rations by involving the panchayat. They resumed discussions with Kailash regarding the child. He continued to refuse access. Vimli was then provided information about the DV Act and she decided to file a case.

Vishakha as a service provider processed for filing DIR under DV act. The court refused to take Vimli’s DIR and directed her to file through a Protection Officer. The Vishaka team met the PO and discussed the issue. The PO also refused her DIR pending a visit and evaluation. He, along with the Vishakha team, visited Vimli’s house and asked her questions. It was then agreed to file the DIR with the court. Kailash created an excuse for the case against him and he completely stopped communications with Vimli and relocated to Gujarat without leaving any info. The court has yet to take action on her case.

Vimli is now happy as the physical abuse has now stopped. In her words “I got my dignity back!” She is trying to get custody of her child with the help of the Visakha team. Through this long struggle, her basic documents could be processed and are ready, which will help her with employment in MNREGA. She now has the confidence & courage to take her fight ahead.

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My Name is Jonila A, from Begur, belongs to Bangalore Rural District. Karnataka. I am Speech and Hearing Impaired by birth. We are 4 members in my family: Father Mother and a younger sister who is doing nursing studies. My father is agricultural labour and mother is a tailor.

With the limited income they get they were unable to support education of me and my sister. It was difficult for me to study without the support of others class mates since I was deaf and dumb. Therefore I discontinued my studies and I was at home looking for some job. One fine day a staff from Samarthanam came to my house and talked about the training programs that are going on Samarthanam for the disabled people and urged me to join the program.

I was hesitant and my parents were scared to send me to Bangalore. After discussing in detail my parents were convinced to send me to the program. Samarthanam provided me with a very good learning environment and all my bath mates were very good, supportive.

I Had very good trainers who made my learning easy and comfortable. During the training period I learnt to speak in English, learnt to use computers and gained confidence and courage to face new situations and challenges. After the training I got through an interview and was selected for the post of Analyst in Ganvitha Technologies Pvt Ltd and earning Rs.12000/-. I am very happy about it. My parents and other friends feel proud about me. Thanks to Samarthanam who brought confidence and a ray of smile on my face.

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Meena, 35 y/o, from Hyderabad approached Hidden Pockets saying her husband made her leave her home almost a year ago. She has 1 daughter and they both live with Meena’s mother. Her mother constantly ask her when will she go back as in their culture she is not supposed to stay at her parents house for this long after marriage. Meena’s husband says that he won’t allow her until she show a mentally fit certificate. The certificate should be from the psychologist whom they (Husband and in-laws) have already manipulated. They want to declare Meena as mentally unfit and mad. Hidden Pockets referred her to Bharosha, Hyderabad and she received help through Bharosha.

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I was 17 years old when I got pregnant from my boyfriend. My father is a businessman and my mother is a house-wife. I have two older siblings and they both are studying at a state university. My boyfriend stopped talking to me when I told him about my pregnancy. My next and only resort was my parents. They were devastated by the news. First they tried to access a place that pregnancies can be terminated but access was impossible due to the curfew that was imposed island wide. Therefore my parents took me to the nearest government hospital. The staff at the government hospital directed me to a safe house that many other pregnant girls are being rehabilitated. I feel miserable and helpless. My dreams and my future are shattered into pieces.

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Anu was a single mother of two. After the second child was born the father became very violent and tried to take the newborn child away and “give” him away in adoption. He also denied any kind of support to them. We went to the Vanitha sahayavani where the social workers were shocked at the story and promptly took action to get him arrested.

The severe stress took a toll on Anu and she had to be admitted to NIMHANS with the baby for observation and diagnosis. While this process was on, and the doctors were treating them, the infant got seizures, and had to be treated for that as well. Due to lockdown the hospital was closed so they discharged Anu and the baby, giving suitable medicines to continue at home, and also gave contact numbers of the hospital in case there was any emergency.

As the medicines were over they got a fresh batch prescribed after booking appointments but this lot of medication didn’t suit her due to side effects. She would like to go and meet the doctors and get a fresh check-up for herself and the baby but hasn’t been able to go because she doesn’t have the money to go and also the money to buy the medicines – there’s barely enough money to eat and pay the rent.

How do single mothers denied any form of financial support and health services survive in such times? Already under treatment for mental health issues, there is risk to the lives of her children and herself if she decides to do anything drastic.

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A woman who had left her home in January and moved into a PG reached out to Bembala volunteers in the second week of March. Hers was a case of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, whom she had been married to for over 20 years, and with whom she had three kids.

She was looking for the services of a lawyer, who could help her get a divorce. Bembala Foundation provided her with emotional support as part of our initial “befriending” process. After a few sessions, she agreed to trying a few other options.

In her own words, “Bembala’s care and guidance helped me make better life choices, and suggested ways to achieve my full potential. The mediation and befriending gave me great comfort, hope and courage to deal with my problems. You saved a once broken relationship….”

Often women think that that their only means of coping with abuse is silence. This woman broke the silence, which in turn helped her spouse realize the missing links in their marriage. The woman moved back into her home with her family, willing to try the marriage contract out for 3 months. It has worked out beyond those 3 months, with her ability to manage the ups and downs in her relationship, and being able to have more realistic expectations from her marriage. This woman has come a long way.

At one point she was depressed and had lost any hope for life. She is now back home and working as a teacher, an option for independence that her husband would not have accepted earlier.

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Gendered Violence: Not Your “Circus”? Not Your “Monkeys”?

For many, gendered violence is a shocking story that they read in newspapers, a gut wrenching event that they watched in a documentary, a disturbing clip that is widely shared on platforms like Facebook. Many get affected by what they read and what they see, there is anger, sadness that how can this continue to happen even in these times when there is police, law, court whom all work to ensure that justice is delivered and help is rendered. And there are of course a few who just are not affected by any of these, choose to deal with these realities as “not my business”, “who cares”, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Unless and until the lived realities of gendered violence are theirs, then alone perhaps can they grasp what is it like to feel powerless, what is it like to feel violated, what is it like to feel helpless. But what if the very same systems established by democracy to ensure protection and justice to all, are the ones who are doing this “not my circus, not my monkeys” act, especially when they are called upon to discharge their duties and responsibilities?

Brinda Adige, Volunteer Mentor at Global Concerns India (GCI), shared a harrowing experience with us. Mind you, this is not one isolated story but a recurrent event that merely changes form in various crises which Brinda has intervened to help.

Brinda got a call from a distressed woman Saritha*. Saritha, 5 months pregnant and HIV+, was thrown out of a house cohabited by her partner. This incident happened during the peak of the nationwide lockdown when nobody dared to step out of the house except to buy essentials. Saritha in shock had no clue what to do. She had no money, no place and no friends to call for help. Feeling utterly helpless and in shock, she walked aimlessly until she was worn out. She rested at a bus stop. Many hours had passed since she had last had any food for water and her pregnant state only made her feel all the more exhausted after the walk in the scorching heat of summer. As the last resort, she called the helpline for women set up at the Police Commissioner’s Office but received no response.

The sheer desperate state that she was in, prompted her to think of any possible way that she can get help. She remembered about the Global Concern India’s workshop she had attended and promptly dialed the saved number.

Brinda on receiving the call and grasping what Saritha’s situation is, sprung into action. She connected with a friend who took food and water to Saritha. Saritha was also instructed to keep trying 181 meanwhile. However, there was no response from 181.

Brinda also kept at 181 and finally had a breakthrough. But she was in for a rude shock as the staff who handled the call was not keen to help but give some cursory and dismissive instructions. Brinda requested them to send the rescue vehicle to Saritha and rehabilitate her to a shelter. The policewoman insisted that Brinda tell her every detail like name, address, telephone number and then alone can the police accept this reporting and do the needful. 

Many hours had passed and still no help had come to Saritha from the police. Brinda tried 181 over and over but no response was there from their end. Brinda reached out to DWCD and they promised to attend to Saritha. Time running out and night setting in and still no sight of police or DWCD reaching Saritha, Brinda was forced to call ACS. Two hours later, Saritha was picked up from the bus stop and taken to a shelter. 

Saritha is recuperating now. But she has not filed any case against her partner. As for the police staff/ helpline, no action has been taken against them for the negligence of duty. 

You might want to think this is an isolated incident, and that there are numerous cases of affirmative action from the law and order system. As part of the #16DaysOfActivism #orangetheworld campaign Hidden Pockets Collective, has been curating stories of gendered violence. And the lived realities of those who shared their stories with us show it was not the law nor the police who helped them but the alternatives set up by civil society organizations and communities. A Tweetathon  was held recently, in partnership with Youth Advocacy Network- Sri Lanka, YUWA- Nepal, Aahung- Pakistan, Global Concerns India, Rural Women’s Right Structure-Liberia, One Future Collective-India, DUKINGIRE ISI YACU- Burundi and Lend A Voice Africa, to address the gendered violence and have knowledge exchange on alternative solutions. The Tweetathon also saw active participation from activists who have been working to end gendered violence

At Hidden Pockets Collective, we never turned away anyone who reached out to us for help. If the case fell under domestic violence, we connected them to the organizations working exclusively on the matter. Many women had also reached out to us when they had no access to get medical termination of pregnancy. A consequence of intimate partner violence is unintended pregnancies. Amidst all the agonies of surviving through the violence, they also face the challenge of accessing safe and legal termination of pregnancies. We, as well as many organizations in our network, stepped up to provide alternate solutions for gendered violence during this pandemic. 

Gendered violence has emerged as the shadow pandemic during this COVID-19 pandemic. When there was vagueness or breakdown of health services, essential services, support systems, carelines, shelters, and more importantly the certainties about financial and social security of a person, all hell broke loose and gendered violence was at its peak in 2020. What we have realized through our work with the youth and partner organizations is that alternatives are the way forward. It is pointless to bank upon the mainstream, established systems for solutions. For them, you-me- all of us, are “not their circus, not their monkeys.”

Writer: 

Dr. Nishitha Aysha Ashraf is Programme Associate for SAAF Project at Hidden Pockets Collective. She completed her B.A. Journalism & Communication (2010) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (2015) from Manipal, Karnataka. She has covered the Nipah outbreak in Kerala during her stint as Health Reporter with The News Minute (2018). The reportage furthered her interest to be a key player in public health/ community health. Her internship and work at SOCHARA – Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action (2019) was instrumental to learn more about the People’s Health Movement. She is keen on exploring the SRHR issues of Kerala, especially those amongst the Muslim and Christian communities.

Podcast: What is pleasure for you – Tanzila Khan

Has anyone ever asked you what is pleasure for you? Tanzila Khan gets personal with Aisha Lovely George and shares her stories on this podcast. She tries to reclaim the word “pleasure ” from the sexual connotation. For her it’s success. Tanzila discusses her idea of body, idea of sexual fantasy and what all can be done with it.

Can you get pleasure without a partner? Is it possible to have conversations about it without sex? Can it be about food? What all options do we have? Does sex restricts the idea of pleasure for some groups? Can woman talk about pleasure? Is there a guilt element that prevents women from engaging with the idea of sex? Is there a class angle, can it only be enjoyed by people from certain class? Do we all long for pleasure?

These are some of the questions with which Tanzila in this podcast asks us to expand our understanding of pleasure. A woman with disability tries to take back the idea of pleasure and fight for it.