Special Cell for Women and Children, Maharashtra

Locations: Police Stations across Maharashtra, Coordinating Office in TISS

Sponsor: Department. of Women and Child Development, Govt of Maharashtra

Objectives: The Special Cell for Women and Children (hereafter, Special Cell) is an effort aimed at eliminating violence against women (VAW). It is a service provided to women survivors by trained social workers, strategically located in the police system with a clear understanding that VAW is a crime and that it is the responsibility of the State to prevent and counter it. The location within the police station aims to lead to a more co-ordinated, coherent and in-depth response to the issue by integrating quality psycho-social-legal services within the police system. The first Special Cell for Women and Children was established in 1984 as a strategic collaboration between Bombay Police and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The Special Cells' mission is to work towards ensuring that women are recognized as individuals, with equal rights and opportunities in society, including the opportunity to live a peaceful, violence-free life. The strategic location of the Special Cell within the police system facilitates the State to counter VAW, based on the belief that the legitimate power and authority inherent in the latter can be constructively used to curb VAW in society. This enables the programme to say “no to violence” at the individual & societal levels.

The collaboration of the Special Cell (as an FAP of the TISS) and the Police, resulting in synergy from their differential strengths and contributions, enriches systemic response into a coordinated, multi-agency response to the issue of VAW. This enables the needs of the violated woman to be addressed holistically. The Special Cell also links the police system with women’s organizations & other social service groups, thereby enhancing coordinated response to the violated woman’s needs. Special Cell conducts training sessions that serve to build the capacity and sensitivity of police personnel to understand and respond to women's realities in the context of the family and domestic violence.

Hence, to summarise, the Special Cell’s interventions at the level of the individual woman and at the level of systems enable a multi-faceted response to the complex issue of VAW in the interests of the violated woman. Interventions are made, within the social work practice framework and with a pro-woman perspective, for providing emotional support & strengthening the psychological self of the violated woman, negotiating for non-violence with various stakeholders, building support systems for violated women, engaging police help in the interest of violated women, arranging shelter for violated women, working with men in the interest of violated women, the re-establishment of women's relationships with their economic assets, advocacy for group entitlement in the interest of violated women, development counselling with violated women, and Legal Aid to facilitate the violated woman’s journey through the criminal justice system.

Growth of the Programme: The first Special Cell workers were given space in the office of the Commissioner of Police. Over the years this space expanded to more police stations of the city. UNIFEM funding of Special Cell was initiated for the short-term when UNIFEM, TISS, and the Government of Maharashtra (Departments of Women & Child Development, and Home, especially Police) signed a memorandum in 2001 that made Special Cell a joint programme of all three partners and with an agenda to expand the work of the Cells across the state. Thereafter, the Cells were established in Thane district and then other districts of the State as well. Finally, in 2005, the DoWCD (Government of Maharashtra) took up the funding of the entire Special Cells, to be run henceforth with the official collaboration of the State Department of Home. The role of the TISS has transformed into that of a coordinating, monitoring, part-implementation and technical support agency. At present, Special Cells is in the process of further district and even taluka-level expansion in Maharashtra, and is being operated as a scheme of the State Government. Under the scheme, TISS & local NGOs are implementing the Cells in districts. Currently, 144 Special Cells are sanctioned for various locations across Maharashtra (101 are operational in current f.y.).