In May 2019, Peace & Equality Cell visited several women’s shelters in Gujarat in collaboration with the Women & Child Department of Gujarat. We went to 11 shelter homes across Gujarat in a span of 15 days and with the gracious help of the Women & Child department, could talk to the residents as well as the shelter managers about any problems they may be having over there.
New rules for shelters were published in January 2019 and one purpose of these visits was to understand how well they were being implemented within the shelters. Another purpose of the visits was to observe how the infrastructure of these homes could be changed for the better.
A common theme we found in the shelter homes was how there was a lack of implementation of the new rules in the shelter homes. Shelter managers were either unaware of the rules or were unsure of how they were to be implemented. Another issue was the fact that women felt that they were trapped inside and could not get out on their own free will. While it was easy to come in, it was hard for a woman to get out of there. We kept emphasising that these were adult women who were free to make their own choices and the State had no say in whether they stayed or they left. In a disturbing incident a few years ago, a group of residents escaped a shelter and media reports showed living conditions to be very unhygienic. This was the incident that triggered our filing a PIL with the State.
On 19th June, the High Court of Gujarat agreed to allow us to file a list of our concerns regarding functioning of shelters which was quite uplifting. The Court agreed with us on the fat that rehabilitation and reintegration was necessary for each individual in the true sense of the word and that implementation of the new rules was very important.
This was encouraging for us and we continue to do the work on this both in the court and outside of it.