August 2005 - In 2004, a children’s organisation in Bangalore (Karnataka, India) was trying to organise a camp for street children in a well-known middle class neighbourhood. Since she had been working with these children for some time, the field worker from APSA (the Association for Promoting Social Action) was surprised, when on the day before the camp, she found no children at their usual meeting place. She finally caught sight of Raja, a young boy, rather scared and nervous, and heard that the police had rounded up a group of street children and arrested them. She then met officers from the local police station, as well as members of the Child Welfare Committee (Karnataka) and with efforts all around, the children were freed. This incident prompted the organisation to think about creative ways in which to work with the police, so that they could be sensitised to issues of children, especially to the complexities of those living on the street. APSA had already been working with another police station in the city, with some success, as a police-NGO partnership for community awareness and the rights of women and children, under the ‘People-friendly Police Station Programme’ of a UNICEF funded project with the Karnataka State Police.
The Gender Sensitisation and People-friendly Police Project was mooted to the Karnataka Police by UNICEF in 2001, as an opportunity to enhance the attitudes, skills and knowledge of police station level personnel, particularly in their treatment of women and children.
The Gender Sensitisation and People-friendly Police Project was mooted to the Karnataka Police by UNICEF in 2001, as an opportunity to enhance the attitudes, skills and knowledge of police station level personnel, particularly in their treatment of women and children. With the support and commitment of senior police officers, UNICEF and the project team began an intensive process of working with over 500 police personnel – from the highest ranked officer in the state to the constable on the street – in order to create a training manual that would be participatory, effective and transformative in the area of violence against women and children. In addition, a pool of trainers from among the police officers, was simultaneously created through a ‘Training of Trainers’ process, in order to have peer trainings and create change agents at the police station level itself.
In the last two years since the manual was created, over 1250 police personnel from across the state of Karnataka have been trained, with 90 of them selected and trained as peer trainers. In addition, in the city of Bangalore, ten police stations have entered into partnership with local women’s and children’s organisations (APSA, BOSCO, CISRS, ECHO, Kaveripuram Mahila Sangha, Mahila Dakshata Samiti and Paraspara) in order to create a support system for women and children in distress. Over thirty community outreach programmes have already been held, and the partnerships may soon extend to other police stations in the city, since the example of these ten has inspired others to follow suit.
As in the case we began with – APSA decided to collaborate with the police station in question. Workshops with the police followed, and they were appraised of the legislations and procedures governing women and children, including the Juvenile Justice Act. Most importantly, they began to reflect upon the sensitivity and courtesy with which they needed to approach citizens, focusing on those particularly vulnerable – women and children. Today, Raja and his friends are no longer troubled by the police. Instead, the police are working with the organisation in order to create more opportunities for children like them to have the kind of childhood of joy and dignity they have a right to.