Delhi: Nearly one in three women in India report having experienced spousal violence, as per the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (2019-21). Violence is also perpetrated on women in public spaces, workplaces and educational institutions.

India has a range of laws, policies and programmes that seek to address gender-based violence. Public resources are allocated annually to implement these, but most measures funded only come into play once the violence has already occurred. Even for these measures, resources are insufficient, an analysis by the Center for Budget And Governance Accountability (CBGA) for IndiaSpend shows.

Key schemes are underfunded and several schemes for support to survivors of violence were subsumed under two new programmes, which was accompanied with a drop in allocation compared to the individual schemes, the analysis shows. Further, experts say funding under the Nirbhaya fund should move away from surveillance, while at the school level, there should be more emphasis on curriculum reform and awareness rather than on teaching girls self defence.

Funds underspent for key schemes

Prevention of gender-based violence is attempted at multiple stages, as theorised in a 2015 framework by United Nations (UN) Women: before it occurs, preventing recurrence or escalation once it has occurred and preventing long-term harm to survivors.

Some prevention strategies include community mobilisation and awareness generation among both women and men, bystander interventions and safety audits in public spaces.

Fall in allocation as several schemes combined into two larger umbrella schemes

In 2021-22, several ministry of WCD schemes addressing the needs of women were combined under two new umbrella schemes, Sambal and Samarthya, under the larger umbrella of Mission Shakti. The budget allocations for Sambal and Samarthya in FY 2021-22 were less than the combined allocations for the constituent individual schemes in the previous years by 8.3% and 10.5%, respectively.

As the configuration of the two umbrella schemes (Sambal and Samarthya) was different in the budget documents of 2021-22 and 2022-23, it is difficult to compare the allocations in these years. But, it is clear that the overall resource allocation has fallen.

In 2022, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports took note of the declining trend in actual expenditure for key ministry of WCD schemes and suggested it may be indicative of gaps in planning, implementation and monitoring. The committee also flagged the negative implications of these issues for the schemes' beneficiaries.

Skewed distribution and low utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund

The Nirbhaya Fund is a non-lapsable corpus for projects related to safety and security of women and girls, set up in 2013. The fund has been used to finance new initiatives or scale up existing programmes. Between financial year 2013-14 and 2021-22, the fund had a total corpus of Rs 6,212.95 crore.

Many of the projects proposed and funded under the Nirbhaya Fund involve installation of CCTV cameras and vehicle tracking systems, our review showed. The Safe Cities project, which accounts for nearly 32% of the total amount appraised under the fund, proposes to improve women's security in large cities through surveillance, crime-mapping, smart lighting and better access to law enforcement. While the guidelines also list other components, such as community outreach and sanitation facilities for women, the resource distribution between the different components is unclear. News reports suggest a focus on installation of video cameras and police response apps.

Indian civil society organisations such as Safetipin and Internet Freedom Foundation have raised concerns about the overreliance on surveillance-based strategies for curbing gender-based violence, including risks to privacy. These studies suggest the need for other measures such as better civic amenities for women, improved street lighting, safety audits and wide public consultations on appropriate prevention strategies.

State-specific proposals appraised under the Nirbhaya Fund also involve surveillance, such as under the Abhaya Project in Andhra Pradesh, the project for women's safety in public transport in Uttar Pradesh, and the project by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation. The ministry of WCD reported that they have appraised three additional proposals in October 2022, two of which involve surveillance and vehicle-tracking. These are installation of CCTV cameras in Manipur, and vehicle tracking devices and SOS buttons in buses in Telangana.

Between 2014 and 2021, projects worth a total of Rs 9,176.65 crore had been appraised under the Nirbhaya fund. However, only 49% of this has been released and even less (34% of the appraised funds) has been reported as utilised, as per the latest data available on the Nirbhaya Dashboard. Projects for which fund utilisation (out of funds appraised) has been particularly low include Fast Track Special Courts to dispose pending cases of rape and child sexual abuse (22%) and One Stop Centres (19%).

Under the Nirbhaya fund, the Union government released Rs 99.86 crore to states, in the financial year 2019-20 and 2020-21, to set up and strengthen Anti-Human Trafficking Units (ATHUs) in all districts. These units are meant to set up intelligence mechanisms to identify human trafficking channels and gather information for crime prevention.

But personnel implementing these activities are not adequately sensitised, and often the units do not have dedicated vehicles for rescuing trafficked women, said Bengaluru-based Pallabi Ghosh, anti-human trafficking activist, and founder and director of the Impact and Dialogue Foundation.

In addition, not all victims receive compensation under the Nirbhaya Fund, for which the Ministry of Home Affairs allocated Rs 200 crore. "Most survivors are not aware of the provision for victim compensation, and few end up receiving any. If at all they do, it's after long delays," said Ghosh. She said more funds are needed to support survivors economically, and to allow for their voices to be heard in policymaking processes.

Using schools to prevent gender-based violence

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, it is the Union and state government's responsibility to prepare age-appropriate educational material for children on the law, and to educate them about their well being and protection from abuse. A small-scale study conducted by a Delhi-based organisation, The Zero Period, a non-profit that works for age-appropriate sexuality education, found that only 29% of young adults received sexuality education of any kind. The study also noted that in the absence of a nationally-mandated sexuality education curriculum, the onus of its delivery is on individual schools.

"Schools are a critical entry point for prevention of gender-based violence," said Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO of Breakthrough India, an organisation working with the Punjab and Odisha governments to develop a gender-sensitive curriculum.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports in February 2022 recommended that gender sensitisation be made an integral part of the school curriculum from an early age. The ministry of WCD listed, among measures it is implementing towards this end, NISHTHA, a teacher training programme where 'gender dimensions' are part of the curriculum, and the inclusion of gender sensitivity in all National Council For Educational Research and Training (NCERT) capacity building programmes. It also mentioned that bridging social and gender gaps is one of the objectives of the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship school education scheme run by the Department of School Education and Literacy. The scheme also provides self-defence training to girls from grades VI to VIII.

Self-defence, however, puts the onus of prevention of crime on women and girls, Bhattacharya said, emphasising that there should be more focus on bystander intervention and community-oriented programmes that engage everyone, including boys, parents and teachers, in calling out and preventing gender-based violence.

We have reached out to Uday Shankar Mehta, an under secretary with the Women and Child Development Ministry, for comments on the reduced allocation to schemes under Samarthya and Sambal, on the findings of the 2022 Parliamentary Committee, and on the kinds of programmes funded for prevention of gender violence versus programmes after violence has occurred. We have also reached out to the Home Secretary for comments on the utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund and the compensation fund for survivors of gender violence. This story will be updated once we receive a response.

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