Bihar has one of the highest rates of Violence Against Women (VAW) in the country. According to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06), 61% of ever married women and 23% of never married women experience physical and sexual violence in the state. The main perpetrators of this violence are intimate partners, parents and in-laws. Interviews with women survivors show that issues of emotional and sexual relations, dowry, females going out of homes, girls pursuing education, and household work are often the reasons for the violence.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2006 (PWDVA) increased Bihar’s response to VAW. Two key features of the response were the appointment of District Protection Officers and the establishment of District Women Helplines.
Helplines were introduced in Patna in 1998 to provide emergency relief, legal aid and counselling services to female survivors of violence. They achieved good results and have been gradually extended to other district headquarters by the Women Development Corporation (WDC). In 2015, 35 out of Bihar’s 38 districts had Helplines managed by the District Protection Officer (DPO).
In some districts, these are run by NGOs. Helplines provide counselling services to victims of violence and file Domestic Incident Reports (DIR). They also facilitate women’s access to other domestic violence services including (a) reporting of crimes (FIR) in Police Stations, (b) free legal aid, (c) temporary shelter at Short Stay Homes (SSH) and other organisations, and (d) medical assistance. As part of the Government’s Sector Wide Approach to Strengthening Health Programme (SWASTH), the Bihar Technical Assistance and Support Team (BTAST) has provided support to Helplines to enable them to perform their roles and responsibilities. An assessment of the Helplines was undertaken in 2012 to guide BTAST.