Uttarakhand: Shelter homes in the eye of controversy

  • Neha Pant, Hindustan Times, Dehradun
  • Updated: Nov 27, 2015 16:11 IST
Nari Niketan the government-run shelter home for women in Dehradun. (Vinay Santosh Kumar/HT photo)

Nari Niketan, the only government-run shelter home for women in Dehradun district, is in the eye of controversy ever since an alleged case of sexual harassment surfaced ten days ago, prompting a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) of the police.

The shelter, which houses 103 women with mental disability and 32 ‘normal inmates’ on the same campus against norms, has been in the news in the past too, for all the wrong reasons -- lack of security and also medical care which allegedly caused death of some inmates.

Experts say the Doon shelter home is not the only one crying for attention.

The state has four such shelter homes in Dehradun, Haldwani, Kotdwar and Tehri where women rescued from distress situations are lodged by the police or the district administration.

“Lack of well-trained staff and caretakers are a major concern at all the women shelters. In fact, installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras for security purposes is also very important which should be addressed without any delay,” said Prabhavati Gaur, vice chairperson of the state commission for women (Garhwal division).

The sorry state of affairs of the women’s shelter home in Dehradun came to the fore after Prabhavati Gaur, vice chairperson of the state commission for women visited the place earlier this year and found ‘normal’ women lodged together with those having mental problems. She also expressed concern over acute dearth of caretakers and lack of security measures at the shelter.

Calling the situation “unfortunate”, Doon-based activist Kamala Pant said state-run women shelters mirror the government’s seriousness towards women empowerment.

“It is sad that women are forced to survive amid lack of facilities in the same state where they had remained at the forefront of the statehood formation movement (in the 1990s). The government should take urgent steps besides roping in expert organisations (working for women) to hold regular counseling session with the residents,” said Pant.

Dehradun-based social activist Kiran Ulfat Goyal, who has highlighted the condition of the shelters, said despite several visits and directives by dignitaries, requisite action to improve the place was yet to be taken up. “Wonder why no steps are taken to improve the shortcomings? Implementation of the official directives should be undertaken promptly,” she said.

Two superintendents of the Dehradun Nari Niketan have been suspended by the social welfare department for failing to take action against alleged irregularities and three male workers have been shifted too, as their posts will be filled up by women.

The Nari Niketan affair has also taken a political colour with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing the Congress-led government of hushing up the matter.

“The government is trying to put the matter under the carpet. We are conducting an independent probe to find out the truth,” said BJP state president Tirath Singh Rawat, who has formed an investigation committee under former minister and MLA Vijaya Barthwal. The BJP has also demanded intervention of the National Commission for Women in the case.

Vishnu Singh Dhanik, director of the social welfare department, said efforts were on to ensure speedy recruitment of trained staff at the women shelters. “We will soon deploy a nurse at the shelter in Dehradun and caretakers at other shelters too. Also, we have appointed a woman deputy director to ensure regular monitoring of all women shelters,” said Dhanik.

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