Portraits of a Rape Crisis SWAT Team in India - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Portraits of a Rape Crisis SWAT Team in India

Portraits of a Rape Crisis SWAT Team in India

By Sanjena Sathian

The rescue van of the Asha Jyoti 181 helpline waits outside a government hospital in Varanasi.
SourceSmita Sharma for OZY


Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

By Sanjena Sathian

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Khushboo Singh, 24
Rajni Dubey, 26
Vardhika Pandey, 28  

Varanasi, India

We answer the new 181 helpline, which connects women in trouble with counselors. If there’s any problem, people can call here. We get calls about domestic violence and rape or child abuse. People come in here in crisis to talk to us, or they call if they can’t come in person. We treat them as friends as much as we can. When they call and they’re scared, we ask them questions about what is going on at the house, are they scared, etc. Sometimes it takes two or three meetings for them to become comfortable. Sometimes we send girls to a shelter or give medical help. Sometimes girls don’t want to say what happened; someone else will have brought them in — but we have to be patient. 

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Counselor Rajni Dubey

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

Other times we do a rescue. That means we get in the rescue van — we, the counselors, with a police team and a driver. We have to do on-the-spot-counseling. Sometimes we might see a drunk husband right there, shouting. We saw one woman who had a drunk husband just like that who was all the time hitting her, treating her like a football. We helped her with the First Information Report — the police report — and it’s ongoing; the divorce hasn’t been filed yet. We have seen cases as young as 13 — actually, even 7. 

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Police constable Priyanka Singh

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

Only one of us, Vardhika, is married. Rajni stays alone. Khushboo with family. We are independent, though; we have graduate degrees in social work or psychology. Before this, Rajni worked in Bhopal on women’s issues and worked with poor girls, and Vardhika stayed in Varanasi and Mumbai teaching various job skills at an NGO. Khushboo worked at a mental hospital. We started in March and we got two months of training, that’s all. This is a new government initiative. Things are just getting started.

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Khushboo Singh, Vardhika Pandey and Rajni Dubey

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

The media awareness after Nirbhaya, the 2012 gang-rape case, has helped. But there is so little awareness. By birth, men have this idea put in their heads. There are things like Karva Chauth, the festival here in north India where women fast for their husbands — it’s 24 hours, no water, not even tea! And see, look at us: We are urban, educated people. But even we did not know all of our rights until we had our training. If your husband even touches you, he needs your consent — that we never knew. And if we all don’t know, how will the women in villages know? They should start all this in school, teaching good touch and bad touch. 

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The police reporting desk

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

There are some changes, at least. People are less afraid. Societal change is coming. But it will be some time. It will take 10 or 15 years, minimum.

As told to Sanjena Sathian and translated from Hindi.

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