Policy formed a decade ago, but Kerala government yet to bring in Nirbhaya law

Activists working in the field of sexual violence against women and girls have raised allegations of concerted moves by the state machinery to dilute the basic concepts of the policy.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  In March 2012, months before the heinous Delhi gang rape and murder, the Kerala government formulated a policy to combat sexual violence and sex trafficking of women and children. Coincidentally, the policy was named ‘Nirbhaya’, a term that later came to be associated with the victim of the brutal crime of December 16, 2012.

However, even after a decade of formulating the policy, the government is yet to bring in a ‘Nirbhaya’ law. What’s worse, activists working in the field of sexual violence against women and girls have raised allegations of concerted moves by the state machinery to dilute the basic concepts of the policy that was formulated on March 3, 2012, by a committee led by Sugathakumari under the then Social Justice Department.

“The policy aimed at protecting victims, including women and girls, of sexual violence, preventing such crimes and helping in the prosecution of the accused so that the perpetrator(s) is brought to book. As part of the policy, Nirbhaya homes were set up in districts,” former director of Mahila Samakhya P E Usha told TNIE. “However, on June 25, 2013, the government replaced ‘Nirbhaya’ with ‘Women and Children’, after pointing out that the term carried a stigma. Later, it dropped the term ‘women’, saying it needed to be removed to get the Juvenile Justice registration,” Usha said.

She said the order also changed the names of Nirbhaya homes, which were set up to lodge minor victims of sexual violence, to ‘entry homes’. The character of the homes, which were aimed to serve as a permanent abode for such girls, was also altered, turning them into temporary shelters.

“Under the Nirbhaya policy, victims of sexual violence have to be provided psychological and emotional support besides legal aid. However, the officials are now sending children who faced abuse, back to their own homes. Girls who cannot be sent home, are shifted to the model home in Thrissur. And once they turn 18, these girls, who suffered immense mental and physical trauma, are sent to the Mahila Mandir,” alleged a social activist. 

She said had the original concept of Nirbhaya homes been retained, these girls could have stayed there and pursued their studies. “In a majority of cases of sexual abuse and sexual assault registered in Kerala, the accused are close relatives of the victims. So, sending the latter back home is a risk we cannot afford to take,” said the activist.

Citing an example from 2017, the activist said a survivor who was sent to her home returned after facing abuse twice. A year later, she was sent home again, only to return after being abused 17 times, she said.

Dismissing the allegations, Nirbhaya Cell coordinator Sreela Menon told TNIE: “No change has been brought in the Nirbhaya policy. However, we submitted a proposal to the government in 2021 seeking a revision of the policy. The government has to take a call. At present, we send the survivors home only after getting a thorough report from the district Children Welfare Committee (CWC),” Sreela said.  

When contacted, CWC chairperson Shaniba said: “We are of the opinion that, to ensure the best interests of children, they should be sent home if the atmosphere there is right.” “CWC submits its report to the authorities concerned after conducting an investigation through the district child protection unit,” she told TNIE. However, social activists pointed out that the reports are prepared after having talks with close relatives. “In our patriarchal system, we are aware of how the power dynamics work at homes when the abuser is from within the family,” said an activist.

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