Sunday, August 16, 2015

Taking care of children of vulnerable families

While we celebrate 68 years of Independence, I recall days of my prison assignment when I saw many children with their mother in the jail. The Indian prison system allows women lodged in jails to keep their children with them up to the age of six.
The children were there as their mothers wanted to keep them safe. On one of my first visits in the jail, soon after taking over as the inspector general (IG prisons), I asked the superintendent why were these children were not in school? He said: "Madam, there is no school and there is no teacher. We don't even have the budget for education in the prison complex housing more than 9,700 inmates (at that time)."
These children, as I saw, knew the language of courts, lawyers, and crime. The games they played were how to track and crush insects and play knife-knife. They knew the art of pick-pocketing and they could demonstrate it without any hesitation. For them, it was a sport.
Nursery school in jail
One of immediate things which we did was to open a nursery school on the jail premises. We carved out a space from within the women's ward compound and separated the children from their mothers through the day. We connected with the community and asked for donations in kind for books, toys and stationery. It all arrived. And we started the school. Educated women inmates were asked to take charge along with Catholic nuns who came and volunteered to serve. The place was also visited by Mother Teresa. The children were given school uniforms and bags. This created a whole new atmosphere inside the women's prisons.
Women inmates were told to ready their children for school at 8am. Mothers loved the idea of their children getting education. We also took the children for outings to parks, doll museums and zoos. The whole idea was to educate the children in a free and fair environment.
The challenge
But then came a challenge. What do we do with the children above the age of six? This is was the upper age limit of staying with mothers in the jail. These women did not want to send their children to shelter homes for various reasons. Primarily being the feeling of insecurity. Meanwhile, the children's school on the Tihar jail premises had been institutionalised and christened as India Vision School after I received the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
But when I was transferred from the Tihar jail, I started looking for a safe place where these children could continue learning. As nature conspires and gives you what you truly ask, one day Catholic nuns of Assisi Convent School approached me for providing education and hostel facility to girl children of prisoners. We only had to provide the hostel and school fee. This led to the start of the Children of Vulnerable Families Project in 1994. It still continues to serve, linking the prison nursery school with missionary schools outside. Today, the India Vision Foundation (IVF) reaches out to nearly 300 families with similar programmes running in four state prisons of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
Last week, the programme came together for its first alumni meet. Over 70 children, now grown up, some in college and universities, some married and some employed attended it. It was a reward of over 20 years of work, which started in 1994. We decided to use the opportunity to ask them a few questions to help analyse and reflect. Here are a few of the answers being shared and also the essential learning for us as a community.
Question: If you get a chance to change something in your childhood, what is it that you will like to change and why?
Answers: (Indicative) They all longed for togetherness of their parents. They all wished to be with them. Homes which saw violence and disrespect of their mother were distressing to them. Father's drunkenness impacted them. Poverty agonised them. Disease impoverished them more. They all longed for love, care and opportunities like others. They wanted to share their feelings but some had none. They overcame these because of care we gave them.
Question: How did you deal with your parents' criminal background?
Answers: (Indicative) One said: "She saw the wrongs, but ignored them. I still loved them." Another one said: "It was embarrassing when some of my classmates came to know that my parents were in jail. After a certain period of time, I started to think that everything happens for a reason. If they had not gone to the jail, I would not have got a chance to go to a good school." (Sent by India Vision Foundation running the Children of Vulnerable Families Project).  Another said: "I used to run away from my friends' remarks till a senior counsellor trained me how to respond to them."
Yearning for parents' love
The alumni meet revealed that children who suffer at a very early age never forget their lost opportunities. They yearn for their parents' love. They love proximity. Poverty hits them hard. They want both, mother and father. They all wanted to be educated from English medium schools. Hindi alone limits their opportunities. We found girls more expressive in sharing their feelings than boys. They were equally more sensitive.
Lessons learnt were that each child is a life whatever the circumstances might be. Children suffer when parents and teachers fail in their responsibilities. Some children manage to emerge, others take a long time. All need handholding in such circumstances. But all are not so fortunate.
By taking care of such children, the community has succeeded in saving girls from early or forced marriages (as they said in their responses). The foundation and the residential schooling protected them from being victimised or exploited. Boys too were saved from behavioural delinquency or repeating crimes as seen. Sincere collective community effort saves lives. It just needs love of heart and compassion. Children are our future. Parenting is a huge responsibility. Do not undermine it. Never take away your child's childhood.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Empowerment: Does a terrorist need mercy?

India has death penalty on its statute book not because Indians are blood-thirsty and want an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but because India will not incentivise terrorism. Terrorists cannot kill, attack, destroy, injure and still live to attack again.

India is duty-bound to keep her people safe so that they can live in harmony and peace. India is a democratic country with a robust judiciary. It has due process of law and the right to fair trial applicable to everyone. Every citizen has certain fundamental rights. But they come with responsibilities.
While we have the right to life, we also have the responsibility not to take another's, and if someone commits the crime, he will be tried by law, sent to prison, face a trial, and if proven guilty, gets convicted and goes to prison for punishment as per the sentence awarded. The courts award death penalty depending on the irrefutable barbarity of the case. However, Indian courts have used it sparingly in rarest of the rare cases.
Crime of terror is barbaric. It's cold-blooded murder. It is equally an assault on the security and integrity of the state. It is also an attack on the nation of 1.2 billion people with a conscious attempt to cause mayhem by mass life destruction, bloodshed, pain, suffering, communal division, hostility, revenge within the communities by undermining trust and mutual respect.
The Indian democracy gives all, terrorists included, the due process of law. However barbaric the offence, the accused has the right to defend himself.
Victims' rights are the responsibility of the state delivered through the governments at the Centre and the state. In case of unsatisfactory protection of victims by the state, victims suffer, and lose faith in the system and the governance of the day. The political parties at the helm tend to lose support. Hence, to keep their respective constituencies intact, there is undoubtedly an element of competitive politics and political posturing is seen at play.
Threat of terror
India continues to be under serious threat of terror for decades. It has lost thousands of innocent ordinary citizens, policemen and women, and personnel in armed forces. The attacks have become almost a daily feature in different parts of the country.
As a cop I notice considerable outcry by the intelligentsia against death penalty to a terrorist, irrespective of his barbaric acts. Recently, the country lost the Gurdaspur SP with his 'thullas'. Their loss, comparatively, received little space and attention in visual, print and social media vis-a-vis the clamour of the vocal intelligentsia pleading for mercy to a terrorist. How justified was this? Is this not national blasphemy? And cruelty towards one's own, just because you yourselves have not been the victims, and have not experienced the pain and suffering?
Should our hearts not bleed for the loss of innocent lives and the hapless? Should we not support the rank and file in uniform, our real protectors?  I asked a known opinion influencer advocating the abolition of death penalty, "If his heart bled for the slain Gurdaspur SSP and other 'thullas'?" I did not get a satisfactory reply.
Can our hearts instead not cry for a more effective, strong and resourced criminal justice system? Can we not ask for speedy trials, more courts, tougher and updated laws and processes, quality investigation teams, well-trained and equipped, strong intelligence systems, and certainly, exemplary punishment for terrorists?
What we see is energy being dissipated by pleading for mercy for killers or the ticking bombs who have just one single focus -- to tear apart our social fabric and create communal disharmony at any cost. If you get terrorists alive, they remain ticking time bombs in custody, in transit or even after being convicted while lodged in jails. In truth, terrorists are exceedingly indoctrinated with rare exceptions amenable to reforms. This comes out of my experience in prison management.
India today needs an uncompromising voice of unity against terror and terrorists. Challenges and threats of security are accelerating by the day, as is evident the world over, while synergy in political parties back home is diminishing. What all stakeholders need to remember is that if you play with fire, your hands too can get burnt.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vital to save our children from monsters

It's a horror story   a true story   still unravelling as I write. It is about what could happen to our lost children.How vital it is to do all that must be done to save them from the clutches of necrophiliacs and others prowling the streets and bylanes to steal and whisk away vulnerable children.

Victims of the most gruesome crime are children of the poor, below 10 years of age, playing by themselves, not far away from their mothers or homes. Or falling prey to the lure of sweets or other attractions. Their parents are mostly labourers, daily-wagers, living on sites or sleeping off the roads.
I am provoked to write this piece after I read a news story of yet another child rapist. Not long ago, we had a similar horrific case in Noida, in a village called Nithari when several children had gone missing and bones were found thrown in a drain outside the culprits' house.
The rapist-murderer was a known cannibal and is in jail, awaiting execution. (Still) I decided to analyse it for our readers to enhance some understanding, which will hopefully prevent wherever possible.
But this story will have to be read out to vulnerable sections which may not be aware of such monsters walking our streets to steal our innocents to fulfil their sexual addiction with children.
Sexual prowler
Here is the case in reference: "At 17, his first crime was a rape & murder..." The accused, Ravinder Kumar, 24, just a 5-foot-5-inch man, said that after he got away the first time, probably when he was 17, it made him confident. He confessed to the police that he was always on the lookout for the next child-victim.
He has been raping children, dead or alive, over the past seven years. He disclosed that he would drink, take drugs with his friends, watch porn and go 'hunting' for a child to be sexually abused.
He did go to red-light areas to get sex, but he had no money, so he picked up children for free. Also, those in brothels were higher in age. He preferred younger.
He went around loitering in colonies looking for children outside their house or near latrines, luring them or even lifting them at midnight, asleep beside their mothers. He would just pick up those who refused to get tempted by sweets and simply gag and whisk them away. He would then take them to an isolated place, silence them by throttling them, and then rape their bodies. After fulfilling his lust, he dumped the bodies in a drain or a ditch and walk away, not to return to the same vicinity for some months to avoid getting caught.
He disclosed that he got this idea after seeing a Hindi film called 'Samne' where the actor did exactly this.
Currently, the accused is taking the police to all places he is recalling where he picked up children to satiate his lust. Till now, the figure is astounding, it's increasing by the day.
Tragically, in one case which he pointed out, the father of the deceased girl is in jail. He was considered the accused by the area police. Obviously, it's a false investigation as the real criminal is this rapist caught now, who has confessed to having raped the child and thrown her away.
Prey to necrophilia
Curious to get to the root cause and explore when and how this addiction began? Any person who seeks out children for sexual arousal by corpses is known to be suffering from necrophilia.
What had his parents to say? I tracked the case with cops. I learnt that the mother, as expected, is in denial, saying that he has been framed.
She does not disclose that she would have no clue as what her son was doing, and why would he be away for long periods. She also did not know that her son was sodomised as a child. Another son of hers too had run away from home on being beaten.
The father, a plumber from Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, left his village, Ganjduware, for Delhi, for want of work.
He, too, had no clue what the son was up to. He appears to be having no capability of handing his six children. (Not known yet what other five are contributing and whether they were aware of their brother. Interrogation so far revealed one among them knew).
This is the family profile: poor, unemployed, children living off the streets, growing up with bad friends who drink, watch porn, rape and rob.
There is a need to comment on the police and the courts too. Ravinder was arrested by the police last year, for a similar offence. His earlier crimes seem to have not surfaced. I say so because this offender was released on bail, because the boy he sodomised escaped death by a whisker. A case was registered. But during the investigations, because the rapist was not recognised, he was released on bail.
My anger is with police, prosecutor and the courts. Police seems to have not interrogated him enough. Had all this been unearthed, many more children's lives could have been saved as he continued to rape while on bail.
Armed with the past record, the prosecutor could have prevented grant of bail by placing solid evidence before the court to deny bail to this rapist. The court granted bail without taking serious sureties in such a heinous offence. In such a case, he could have been on conditional bail, like reporting to the nearest police station and an NGO, for a close watch.
All three apparently took this case as one of the many, not knowing that this criminal is an addict who is on a daily prowl for child victims.
So what do we learn from all this?
The parents
Becoming parents is nature's blessing. But nurturance is their essential responsibility. Parents may be poor but what their children are doing with their lives is their bounded duty to know. This applies to bringing up sons in particular.
Watch over your growing-up sons. The company they keep and habits being formed. They could one day drive parents into jail too.

Parents must look after their children. Do not let them alone in parks. Keep an eye on them. They must report crimes or suspects. In many cases, being migrants, children go missing, but also go unreported. To prevent crimes and get such criminals caught, registration of crime is essential.
The police
Thorough investigations with comprehensive interrogations are critical to further crime prevention. It unearths past criminal acts and increases possibilities of bail refusal. Effective interrogation is crime prevention for present and future.
The courts
In such crimes, easy bail can prove disastrous, as it did in this case. Conditional bail, such as periodic visit to a police station or an NGO for attendance, and possible rehabilitation and watch can prevent repeat crime.
Without this, in totality, children, mostly girls, will continue to be lost to such necrophiliacs and research shows such cases are on the increase.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Empowerment: Why we are at our best only in West?

We are a different person in our country. But our behaviour undergoes a drastic change when we travel overseas, especially to the West.
During my recent trip to a western country, I decided to keep a mental note of all changes that happen to understand this natural transformation.  Let me share my observations.
Beginning from the check-in
If you are in a rush you can push your way around. There would always be somebody available for help. And if you are a bit known face, assistance comes to you on its own. The 'help' will escort you to the waiting lounge carrying your handbags. Your 'assistant' will hang around till he sees you off at the boarding gate. Before leaving, the person would ensure a photograph (selfie these days) with you for his Facebook page.
Does this happen overseas? No way.
Aboard the flight…
If on a flight other than Air India or Jet, (meaning our desi flights) every time you ask for some help, you will say a thank you several times. This is the beginning of change. And if a flight attendant is a westerner, you will think twice before asking for anything extra - even a glass of water.
If you were dozing off at the time when the food was being served, you miss it. You will not get it. Time is up for serving. No point asking. You are late. You bear it...Simple! You don't complain, but accept it.  (This is the second change).  Had you been on a desi flight, you would have complained and created s scene.
After you get off the plane …
You meekly go and stand in the queue…whoever you may be, you hear a voice, follow the line, and you obey, holding your handbags. The queue is moving at snail's pace, but you don't complain. When you reach at the other end, a mechanical voice tells you to go to next counter. You follow instructions. (third change). 
At the immigration counter…
You give your immigration form and the official finds some columns not properly filled. He tells you to go back and refill the form. You quietly go, complete the form and stand in the queue again. You dare not ask for an out-of--turn favour. This is the rule, and you follow it. (fourth change)
Now you pick up your heavy strolleys from the luggage belt. You want a baggage trolley. You pull it, but it's locked. You won't get it till you put in some dollars - cash or credit card. You learn to do it. (fifth change ). Remember your home airport, where it was all free. You curse them, but you need the trolleys. So you pay up grudgingly...
At the exit gate…
If you have to take a taxi, you move into the queue again and can't jump it. And if you are to be picked up by a relative, you call him up. As the person concerned can't be waiting at the airport due to no- parking, he is either in the parking lot or going around in circles waiting for your call. When you are being driven home, you put on your seat belt, realising that if you are caught, you won't be spared. The traffic ticket is steep and you are afraid of heavy fine. The fear of law grips you suddenly. (sixth change)
At your friend/relative's house
There is no house help for your luggage. You help yourself. There is no cook. The host serves you. And you say a thank you many times. The host cleans your cup. The next time you offer to clean it, but the host does/ or does not let you, will depend on him. Same goes for meals.
You either cook, or go and buy cooked food. Eat it outside or come home and eat it. If cooked at home, clean the kitchen and the utensils yourself. (seventh change) There is no house help, the kind we have in India, unless you are super rich...
Meeting you contacts…
Now you wish to call up your contacts. But if it's a weekend, then it's s strict no. It's bad manners to intrude into people's lives on weekends. So, H you leave a message and wait. You learn to respect people's space. (eight change)
You go and meet people after taking a proper appointment. You don't just barge in.  (I'm excluding close relatives).You don't take anyone or their time for granted. (ninth change)
You speak softly on your mobile phone. You also don't leave wrappers or garbage behind. (tenth change)
But the moment we step on out land, we are back to square one. We start complaining about others, but remain who we are. We don't have fear of law or its enforcement agencies. If we are caught, we arm-twist, pull strings and do whatever we can to get out of the sticky situation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What I told 22 Bright, Young Policewomen From Across the World

I was a visiting faculty on a ten-day program in Hanoi for women in police leadership. It was an Asia Region Law Enforcement Management Program, also called 'ARLEMP'.

This programme is a long-term partnership between the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security through the General Department of Police (GDP), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and RMIT University in Vietnam.

22 young women police officers attended the training workshop from Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

For me it was a soulful experience. Each of them was bright, fit, healthy, enthusiastic, well educated, and in valuable positions in their respective countries. All rearing to lead and bond.

Professionally, they appeared to have been well trained and skilled at their work. But they were all curious to learn and know more.

I flew in there a day earlier, to sense their needs. So that when I addressed them I did not repeat what had already been shared with them.
Knowing the unique dilemma of marriage, motherhood and mobility these women face in their professional and personal lives, I decided to focus more on these issues.

Here is what I conveyed to them:

Be clear about who and what you want to be? And how far you wish to go? Whatever your choice, you are here to be happy and live your lives. Not be prisoners of compulsions!

With energy being limited, remember, you need to learn to manage it. You must say no to nonsense.

Learn to delegate, create and respect support systems, spend on buying time for chores you need not spend your energy on. Your wise management of energy will help you focus on areas which demand your total attention as senior cops, beyond being mothers, spouses and providers in unique cultural roles specific to your respective countries and backgrounds.

I shared with them also the mantra of the 3Ms:

The first M is to be the "Master of You".

To be your own master in professional and personal skills. For that you have to be adept at managing your resources. This implies being ever watchful of energy guzzlers, and your sources of recharge.

Be ever ready to learn, train and be mobile. Continue to upskill. Take whatever comes, ask for training support but learn as fast as you can on the job. Be prepared to deliver from day one and take responsibility too. No one will give you time. Therefore start your work from day one of your assignment and learn as you work.

Remember your first 10 days and then the next 20 days in any new responsibility will set the tone. As women you will be watched and scrutinized even more, by your bosses, peers, juniors and others.  
You will begin with being trusted, until you prove otherwise. This is a common perception women enjoy as professionals so far.

The second M is to be a "Member of the Community."

While you will be part of your professional community, that will be not enough. You have to step out of it and keep your world enlarged. This implies that you associate yourself with members of communities around causes dear to you. It can be education, children, women, senior citizens, environment, health, sports, adventure, or any other. This will keep you integrated with people and keep you connected beyond your police services.
The third M is to have a "Higher Meaning in Life."

Find a higher purpose in all you do. This is critical. Know why you are in policing. There has to be a higher purpose in your life, beyond the need to provide for yourself and your family.

It is this which will shape your spirit behind all your responses. Even where there is a higher challenge, you will see a higher purpose in it. Your responses will be not transactional but transformational. It is these qualities which will make you stand out and add value to your service. People will recognize the value addition you are making to the profession in tangible and intangible terms.

When we ran Delhi's most notorious prison we were not there to simply to run a prison, but to make sure people leaving the prison would not come back.

Similarly, in my police assignment whenever we arrested a person for a crime he had committed, we had to know the cause of that his committing the crime. We then worked backwards to see how do we as police officers with feet on the ground, could improve our services so that others can be checked, and this person once released, does not offend again.

Finding a higher purpose is the key to leadership. The real meaning of your position and the kind of influence you will exercise will set you apart from average performers. This will reaffirm faith that women cops are trustworthy.

After I finished speaking, they all gave me a warm hug, which I tweeted about too.

The quality of leadership training I saw being given to the Asian group is the kind regularly needed across ranks for 1,05,325 women cops in the Indian Police, both at the national and state levels. Coming together time to time as inter-units, in vertical interactions. This will do the service and the nation a lot of good.

Departments need to not only train more but also address support systems. Women cops really need to ensure that being mothers does not lead to self-denial of higher opportunities, as well as hard-earned experience to serve society.

This is one issue which I have found entirely unaddressed anywhere yet. But it will have to be addressed if women cops are to be enabled to realize their best potential for an inclusive safer society.

(Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.)
Story First Published: June 09, 2015 11:03 IST

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

At 81, This Unsung Hero Is Turning Women's Lives Around

What did you do withMONEY EARNED from rolling papads?"

"I ran my home", she said with full confidence. "I lost my husband when I was only 30 years of age. But because I was already working at the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, and earning, I could educate my children, settle them all, and even build a house for myself."

This was the exchange with a woman in her mid-60s, present amongst a congregation of more than 1,000 women, rural and urban, belonging to marginalised sections of society from within the city of Jabalpur, assembled in a large auditorium for celebrating their accomplishments.

A slightly younger woman said, "I contribute to my home income, educate my children, and have some savings for a difficult time".

I asked one more... she confirmed the same spirit of self-reliance.

I wondered how these women became substantial income earners by rolling papads.

I got the answer from the event as it unfolded - Vivek Tankha (Co-Author) and I were the presiding guests at this annual event.

I saw a remarkable example of what honest and passionate leadership can do to bring workers, in this case, women, above the poverty line and make them bread earners, house owners, and bank account holders, with children educated and well-placed.

Women were earning good amounts thanks to equitable and productivity-linked distribution of profits earned collectively by nearly 4,000 women of Lijjat Papad's Jabalpur Branch, one of 81 branches of the firm which is headquartered in Mumbai.

Here is what got us so enthused to share this success story.

Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, popularly known as Lijjat Group, is a legendry Indian women's cooperative involved in the manufacturing of various fast-moving consumer goods. Its Jabalpur branch in Madhya Pradesh was established in the year 1974 with 15 members; today it boasts of a membership of 4,000 women.

Members are women essentially from families below the poverty line. The mechanism of membership is collaborative which is nomenclatured as cooperative.

Members constitute the work force of this collaborative effort. The remunerations are linked to the levels of their productivity. Each determines how many hours she will work. Members can take work home.

This branch alone has an annual turnover of nearly 43 crores.

This year, the Society generated a profit of nearly 8.5 crores, which, like in all previous years, has been distributed among the members. The collaborative effort is also wedded to the highest principles of transparency and trust. Each paisa of profit gets transferred to the accounts of all 4,000 members (presently) under the Central Government 'Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna' scheme in proportion to their productivity. (To date, more than 60 crores of profits have been distributed among members).

In addition, the Jabalpur branch also contributes and maintains EPF & ESI payments accounts - an additional social security measure to aid and support its members.

Lijjat Papad's Jabalpur branch is no less empowering than what we have seen in the best cooperative movements like Amul; but because of where it is located, it's an unsung story.

The mentor, Pushpa Berry, (81 years of age), has led this entrepreneurial and social revolution of a workforce of 4,000 women. Her selfless and meticulous management has enabled this large population of women to lead a life of dignity and self-empowerment. She is their pillar of strength. She has chosen not to live with her wealthy sons in Singapore; she wishes to work and serve her members till her last breath.

Pushpa Berry believes that any sick unit can be turned around with this kind of equitable, productivity-based, revenue-sharing model. No loans, no debts. All self-driven, and trusting. A hundred percent Mahatma Gandhi's model of Trusteeship...

India is full of such success stories. We just have to recognise them. I hope the Madhya Pradesh government will take note.

With inputs from Mr Vivek Tankha (Senior advocate, Supreme Court, Former Additional Solicitor General of India and Former Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh)

(Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.)

Story First Published: May 27, 2015 00:38 IST