By Azera Parveen Rahman
YELAHANKA, 11 September 2013 - Sub inspector Anitha Kumar is immensely proud of her khakhi uniform. However, she always has a set of civvies, or civilian clothes, in a cupboard in her police station to quickly change into while dealing with children related cases.
Also the Child Welfare Officer (CWO) of the Yelahanka police station in Bangalore, Kumar understands the fear associated with the ‘uniform’, and therefore takes it off while talking to already traumatised child victims of abuse and other such cases so as to make them feel at ease during interaction.
This simple, yet profound initiative of not interrogating a child in uniform is one of the many adopted by Kumar, and other police officers like her of the Karnataka state police after their three-day Gender Sensitization and People Friendly Project (GSPP) training.
The course covers issues such violence against women and children, gender relations, laws and procedures on violence against women and children, combating trafficking in women and children, the role of the police, HIV/AIDS, public perception, and counseling.
Initiated by the Karnataka state police, and supported by UNICEF, this project aims at bringing about an attitudinal change in the police force while dealing with cases of abuse and violence related to women and children, as well as updatetheir knowledge of related legislations and new laws.
“In our basic training in the police academy as new recruits we have 20 subjects and are taught about various laws, but there is nothing on counselling of children. In the GSPP and CWO training, however, we are given more information on child related laws, like the Child Labour Act, Child Marriage Act, Juvenile Justice Act, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act. Also, we are taught how to behave and handle child related cases. Talking to a child in civilian clothes is one example of creating a comfortable environment to open up about an incident,” Kumar elaborates.
Mild mannered, but stern when it comes to her work, Kumar admits that the training has changed the way the police deals with child and women related cases.
With 18,427 personnel trained and sensitized under the GSSP module since 2003, the effects are visible. There has been an increase in the number of cases against women and children being registered, and no longer are such cases of violence being perceived as ‘soft’ or ‘marginal’ issues. The module is now incorporated into the syllabi of the training academies and schools, and papers on these subjects have been made compulsory at both the Sub-Inspector and Constable level examinations.
The Karnataka State Police is arguably the first in the country to institutionalize training on gender sensitization, HIV/AIDS and trafficking at the police station level.
Ellaborating further on the manner in which cases related to women and children are handled with more sensitivity now, Kumar says, “We have a separate room where I, or the assistant CWO, who is a lady constable, interact with children and women so that they are more comfortable. After that, depending on the nature of the case, we send the victim for a medical examination, or get in touch with the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The important part here is that unlike earlier, when such cases were not always handled with sensitivity, now we spend hours counselling them in order to get the right information and arresting the accused”.
Besides her daily work at the police station, she has initiated a sensitization programme in Anganwadi centres. “In the beginning of this year,we got a case of a six-year-old girl who had beenmolested by the husband of an attendant of the Anganwadi centre she was attending. The girl was first hesitant, but after spending time with her, providing counselling, she narrated how the man had took her to the kitchen of the centre and molested her,” the 32-year-old officer remembers. While the child was taken for a medical examination, the accused was nabbed within 24 hours.
Taking a lesson from the horrific gangrape incident of a 23-year-old woman in a bus in Delhi last year, Kumar also has takenthe initiative of sensitising school bus drivers by getting in touch with a van drivers’ association. Other than that, she regularly conducts outreach programmes for the community and women’s groups, working in factories and otherwise, on issues related to violence and abuse.
She also conducts sensitisation programmes like on the Juvenile Justice Act or Child Labour Act every two or three months.
Kumar believes that as a result of heightened sensitivity, public perception towards the police force has changed and people are more confident of approaching them. “Now, even if it’s not a criminal case and pertains to domestic problems like that of siblings quarrelling or a child not obeying his parents, people approach me for advice. There is a new level of trust”.
Personally, Kumar feels the programme has benefitted her as well.
“I took my training three years back, and personally, this programme has taught me the art of being patient, especially with my own child who is one and half year old and is very active!” the young mother smiles.
In addition to her responsibility as the CWO, Kumar is also peer trainer, which means that she has undergone additional training to be able to train her fellow police personnel in updating their knowledge about various child and women related laws, as well as to adopt a gender sensitive approach.
“I have undergone two trainings, and have conducted one day training for my fellow personnel in subjects like police behaviour and public perception, gender sensitivity, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, and the likes,” she explains. In Kumar’s police station there are 70 personnel, 12 of who are women.
“I have a lot of additional responsibilities now, but every time I solve a case successfully, or see a renewed faith on the police force in the eyes of people, every time one of my colleagues approach me with a doubt, I feel proud of myself and of what I am doing,” she signs off with a smile.