Identity protection a farce at Pune's Sassoon Hospital

Apr 12, 2016, 15:56 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh

Rape survivors bunked with other patients at gynecology ward and questioned in front of them; plan for separate cell still on paper 

Pune: Privacy is a luxury for rape survivors at Sassoon General Hospital in the city. Not only are they admitted to the already teeming obstetrics and gynecology ward for treatment — under the full glare of nosy-parkers — they are also offered no protection of their identity.

The law mandates protection of a rape survivor’s identity.

The state-run facility caters to patients of Pune and neighbouring districts. Sources say close to a 100 women and children, with their attendants in tow, are put up together in a large hall each day. At least 10 of these are sexual abuse/rape survivors. Their statements are often recorded by uniformed police personnel — blowing any shot at anonymity — and are subjected to intense scrutiny by other patients.

Take the case of Chhaaya (name changed), a five-year-old girl sexually abused by her neighbour. The child was rushed to the hospital after her family found out about the abuse. But the child and her family are still traumatised by the ordeal that followed. “A woman police officer came with a writer to record her statement. Although they were in plain clothes, everyone in the ward found out about the abuse,” rues Chhaaya’s mother.

She says more than 100 patients were accommodated in the ward and at night, two to three people often had to share a bed. “People berated me for not paying attention to my daughter’s safety. Many of them even tried to talk to my daughter. I had her discharged from the hospital and brought back home a week later.”

Prerna (name changed), admitted to the hospital in January after her then boyfriend raped her, promising to marry her later, alleges that she was humiliated by a nurse when she asked for a private room. “She taunted me and shamed me for dating.” The 19-year-old resumed work at a mall this month, but a chance encounter with a stranger left her shaken. “The woman enquired about my health and then casually asked me how my court proceedings were going. Turns out that she had been attending to her niece at the ward at the same time I was admitted there. At the hospital, I was forced to pretend that I was being treated for an accident.”

When 24-year-old Karishma (name changed), who was raped by an uncle, was admitted to the hospital four months into her pregnancy last December, she barely had the time to think of how she would grapple with what lay ahead of her. Nosy patients and their relatives took up all of her time; everyone around probed her. “They wanted to know if I was married and if I were, why I didn’t have a mangalsutra or toe ring on me,” she recalls. Although Karishma wanted to keep the child, police and social workers were dead set on convincing her to terminate the pregnancy — a practice prohibited under the law.

Alternative plan stymied
Smita Jadhav, senior inspector (crime) of the Dattawadi police station, admits that rape survivors are clubbed with other patients. “We go in plain clothes to record statements so as not to draw people’s attention. People do peep in. Sometimes, we take rape survivors to another ward or the ICU to record their statements. We try our best to maintain a sense of privacy and hide their identities.”

Dr Yamini Adbe, a human rights activist and doctor, says rape survivors need to undergo thorough check-ups and counselling for a week, but often, they ask to be discharged soon after the medical tests are performed, fearing that their names would be out in the open. To prevent this, the Union government had in 2014 issued directions to all states to set up a separate cell in district hospitals complete with an exclusive lawyer, a social worker, a policewoman and doctors for rape/sexual abuse survivors. Needless to say, the plan never took off.

Sassoon Hospital dean Dr Ajay Chandanwale says the hospital authorities recently met the Pune police top brass to discuss the possibility of diverting patients to other district hospitals. “Our patients are increasing by the day, but we are trying our best not to disclose rapesurvivors’ identities. We get patients from peripheral areas, too. At the meeting, we asked the police to take rape survivors to other nearby hospitals, which will the medical officer collect evidence and begin treatment early.”

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