A 24-hour hotline for women in India's capital, launched shortly after a fatal gang-rape sparked nationwide protests in December 2012, is at risk of closing due to a lack of funds and political upheaval, its head said on Tuesday. The helpline, started in an effort to address sexual harassment and violence against women in New Delhi, is plagued by delays in payment of staff wages and uncertainty about its future, said Khadijah Faruqui.
A power vacuum resulting from the resignation last month of anti-graft campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, after a brief spell as New Delhi's chief minister, has made matters worse. The city is now under direct presidential rule. "It's the kind of issue (where) we didn't get salaries," Faruqui, a women's rights activist, told Reuters.
She said a top government official in charge of Delhi had reassured her that all the helpline's problems would be addressed: "He said: 'Give me two days and I'll resolve all these issues.'" The hotline receives about 55,000 calls a month and is connected to three lines, said Faruqui.
Women needing help can dial 181, and a counsellor will transfer the call to government agencies, non-governmental organisations, hospitals or the police depending on what the caller requires. The hotline logs 86% of the crimes against women recorded by the Delhi police, Faruqui said.
India, with its poorly trained police force and clogged courts, is struggling to curb violence against women. The fatal attack in 2012, in which the victim was raped for an hour and tortured with an iron rod on a moving bus, became a symbol of the dangers women face in India. A rape is reported on average every 21 minutes and acid attacks and cases of molestation are common.