Communities and Police Forces – A shared bond for a safe and violence-free society

Women living in Mumbai’s eastern suburban areas of Chembur and Govandi and their local police officers had a series of unusual meetings recently. Unusual because it was not to file complaints or to participate in investigations. They met casually to chat and understand each other’s problems and help solve them in a friendly manner.

The women and police said that they have been holding these informal meetings for some time now, and this was taking place as part of a campaign called as ‘Mahila Adhikar Te Manav Adhikar’ (Women Rights to Human Rights). The campaign was facilitated by CORO India as part of a worldwide 16-day movement started by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. The campaign seeks to eliminate gender-based violence and is run every year from November 25 to December 10. Under the campaign, CORO India is working towards the safety, protection, and respect of community women.

It has been CORO India’s experience that women from lower-income groups are generally wary of police officers and are often scared to go to them with their problems. CORO’s initiative to facilitate these meetings between women and the police officers was meant to mitigate this feeling of fear and build trust and cooperation between the two.

The women and cops discussed various local issues such as petty crime, eve-teasing, drugs etc. Eve-teasing, they said, was very common and it prevented young girls from moving out after dark. Another issue of concern was drug addiction and alcoholism amongst the community youth. This not only harmed the local youth but was also posed risk to the rest of the community as it could lead to crimes and untoward incidents. The police along with CORO’s team decided to hold dialogues with those addicted to drugs, most of them men, and counsel them.

“Dus saal ke baad, bachchon se unke dost ki tarah samvad karna padega. Bastiyon me ched-chaad ke case saamne naa aaye, iske liye hume ladkon se samvad kar unme badlav lana padega. Is tarah ke muddon pe Nirbhaya Pathak ke saath charcha hui,” said Manisha Mane, member of the Community Case Registration Center.

The women and cops also agreed that the latter would try to play a more proactive and preventive role, instead of being involved just after a crime had taken place. Other community leaders who participated in the meetings - such as members of Mahila Mandals, youth groups, Anganwadi sevikas, maulanas, teachers, doctors - said that they too would support this initiative and help women of the community live in a safe and peaceful environment. The police officers from the Nirbhaya Pathak Squad also assured the women of their full support. As a first step, the cops said they would place a drop-box outside every police station. Any community member could anonymously drop a chit of paper mentioning the problem and its area of prevalence. The police assured us that they would resolve the complaint as quickly as possible.

“Hinsa pehle log sehte the aur chup rehte the. Main jis basti se hoon, wanha auraton ka ghar se baahar nikalna bhi mushkil tha. Ab woh aage aake baat kar rahi hain, jabse Nibhaya Pathak ke saath ek samvad hua hai,” said Farzana, member of the Community Case Registration Center.

The campaign made use of street theatre for delivering messages on domestic violence. This was put up by Yuva Manthan across various locations. The campaign tried to highlight the changing face of the community through the eyes of its members. Two representatives from each community listed down two positive changes that had occurred through CORO’s interventions. CORO’s team put together pictures reflecting these positive changes. An exhibition to showcase these pictures is being planned as a follow-up to the campaign.

Overall, the campaign was hugely successful in helping community women and local police understand each other and form a bond. Together they also discussed ways of addressing local issues. The women said such interactions made them feel safer in their community.

CORO plans to carry out follow-up activities to the campaign. Women friendly centres are proposed to be set up in police stations. They would be jointly operated by CORO’s team, Nirbhaya Pathak officials, and the police officials. These would be informal places where community members would come and share their concerns and seek solutions.