Friend On Call
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A helpline in rural Gujarat has been helping women in distress
9911391234 would seem like any other mobile number. But for women in Gujarat's Kutch district, it is the number they dial in times of distress. For, it is a helpline called "Hello Sakhi", which addresses security issues of women and is the outcome of a partnership between the Kutch Police and the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), a voluntary organisation that has been working with poor rural women since 1989. In 2009, they decided to turn to technology to empower women. That was the beginning of Hello Sakhi. The initiative was sorely needed, as the entire district of Kutch had only one women's police station — at Bhuj. Any call made to this police station would have to be forwarded to the nearest police outpost leading to precious time being wasted.
"We had a proactive deputy superintendent of police, Vabang Zamir, who also wanted to do something about domestic violence. When we mooted the idea for a helpline, he readily agreed," says Meena Rajgor, programme executive, KMVS. In just two years, the idea has won an award — the Women Innovation for Mobile Award 2011, given by the Vodafone Foundation, and the Digital Empowerment Foundation, which works towards digital inclusion in development across South Asia.
The helpline, which took off in May 2010, is answered by volunteers of KMVS who work out of the Mahila Cell at the Bhuj police headquarters, from 8 am to 9 pm. What if calls are placed after that? "We used to stay longer, but have calculated that calls are not made beyond 8 pm," says Rajgor.
Once a call is placed, the volunteer takes down the case details and advises the caller on the options, legal or otherwise, available. If the caller's security or life is threatened, the volunteer alerts both the police outpost and the KMVS paralegal volunteers nearest to the caller's location.