Are Female COVID-19 Volunteers Safe in India?
Khushi Singh [BA LLB student, Jindal Global Law School]
While the entire nation is suffering as a result of a huge second coronavirus wave, the situation has been particularly difficult for women who are going out of their way to actively help collect COVID resources and provide necessary leads daily or on a regular basis. Many such women have become victims of cyber stalking, online sexual harassment and what not.
One such incident came to light recently, wherein a woman was asked by a neighbour to sleep with him for an oxygen cylinder that she desperately needed for her father. This is just one incident; a staggering number of similar cases are being reported every day, all across the country. Not just that, in the past few days alone, female volunteers have been subjected to rape and death threats, their contact details being misused or receiving unsolicited pictures by people hoarding the resources as well as unknown men. Women who refused to give in to sexual favours were systematically boycotted from the cause and denied timely access to adequate resources. It’s appalling to see how even a deadly pandemic couldn’t stop certain men from stooping so low and taking undue advantage of someone’s misery.
Nonetheless, in such a situation, here’s what a victim should do:
● File a police complaint (FIR), for this is a crime under section 354-A of the Indian Penal Code (1860). It’s not the victim’s job to find evidence. If the local police station fails to address their grievance then it’s advisable to send in a written complaint to the local police station and a copy to the CP or DCP of that zone. A written document will also be useful in getting a court order if the authorities still don't assist them.
However, there are some challenges involved. These kind of FIRs will have counter FIRs as well. As there is no evidence and the matter is verbal without any audio or visual proof or witness, the police will just do a preliminary check. If the perpetrator denies, it’ll be the end of the case for even an interrogation can’t be done merely on this basis.
● It’s also recommended to warn other volunteers about such people and even share necessary details if need be. Such measures will invoke fear in the minds of the perpetrators and deter them from repeating these actions in the future.
Be that as it may, it’s extremely unfortunate that we have to resort to taking such measures in the first place. What’s all the more shocking is how most suggestions pertaining to the above issue talk about focusing on the volunteering work instead and brushing it under the carpet for this is “something that could be dealt with later”. Some even go on to question the legitimacy of these claims altogether, comparing them to the rare instance of “false allegations” of assaults made by certain women in the past. Prioritising one cause over the other results in dismissing and invalidating the experiences of a lot of women. This ultimately deters them from taking up any such work in the future. This is why women in India don’t wish to stand up for themselves because even if they do, they are discouraged or, as stated above, even shamed for doing so in all possible ways.
No woman should ever have to opt out of work just because she can’t ensure her safety in an already-dangerous situation. In order to tackle this, we need to normalise women raising their voices against all forms of injustice along with working towards helping COVID patients at the same time. Also, while respecting women is a responsibility to be undertaken at all times regardless of a pandemic, it’s imperative for men to provide safer working conditions for women and to aid them in trying times instead of adding onto their problems.
As shared on GirlUp Femina