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|July 10, 2002|
The Rediff Special/Shobha Warrier
1986. Parliament had just amended the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act with the aim of making it an even more stringent weapon in the battle to reduce crimes against women. One of the amendments included Section 304-B, wherein any offence leading to the death of a woman within seven years of marriage could attract the death penalty.
As a young assistant superintendent of police, K Radhakrishnan's first assignment involved the death of a pregnant young woman in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. When the police closed the case as suicide, her father went to the Supreme Court, which ordered a re-investigation.
Radhakrishnan's investigation revealed that the young woman was pining to become a mother. But even when she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, her husband and in-laws continued to harass her with demands for more dowry. She had three younger sisters at home and knew it was impossible for her father to satisfy their incessant demands. Unable to bear the harassment, she ended her life.
"The case created a deep impression in my mind," says Radhakrishnan, 44.
In 98 such cases investigated by the young officer in a span of two years in one sub-division alone, he found that a majority of the women had died within the first three months of marriage.
"In our society," remarks Radhakrishnan, "women are treated like a commodity, a commodity that can be sold and bought." The problem, he makes it clear, is not confined to poor families. It is there in rich families, middle-class families, in educated and uneducated families, in Hindu, Christian and Muslim families. "Religion, caste, class, or education does not make any difference in society's attitude towards women," he says. "Eighteen years have passed since I joined the service. In these 18 years, women continue to be harassed. But this is one issue that I deal with very sternly."
Then in 2001 came the Gender Sensitisation Programme, started by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, when she found that the police force was not sensitive to the problems faced by women. Radhakrishnan, who was deputy inspector general (training) at the time, had already received the Chief Minister's Police Medal (1995) and the President's Police Medal (1999) and had handled the investigation into the Coimbatore serial blasts of 1998. Now, he became fully involved in the GS programme.
"As DIG, I could change the attitude of many officers towards women and the problems they face," he says. "I made them realise that they have to ask thousands of questions before they drop action in any such case. That, I feel, is one of my biggest achievements as a police officer."
Radhakrishnan understood, however, that the police force was not competent to resolve marital disputes. The personnel were taught investigative skills and law, not counselling. And it was just impossible to train an entire police force at once.
But every problem has a solution and this one lay with Dr Raghavan, who headed the department of computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He suggested e-learning and e-training. "That was how we decided to go for counselling through e-training," says Radhakrishnan.
But another problem remained: how to raise the finance necessary to set up the infrastructure? That was where the Queen and her award came in.
Prateep V Philip
May 21, 1991, Sriperumbudur. There was utter confusion at the ground where India's former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, lay assassinated by a suicide bomber. A young police officer, writhing in pain, was trapped in the mass of bodies. He had 20 per cent burns, was suffering from multiple fractures and dying of thirst. A young boy went up to him, took his head in his lap and gave him a drink of water before taking him to a nearby hospital.
"What's your name?" the police officer asked.
"Purushothaman [the ideal man]," replied the boy.
After safely depositing the officer at the hospital, the boy disappeared.
"I have not heard of him or met him since. That was my first encounter with a 'friend of the police'," Prateep V Philip, DIG (intelligence), 40, recalls.
It was a year later that the concept of 'Friends of the Police' came to Philip's mind "like a flash in the pan".
"When I was young," he recalls, "I had this police phobia. So, when I joined the Indian Police Service, I wanted to change people's perception that the police are to be feared. I wanted to humanise the force and make it more people-friendly. The police exist for the sake of the people, so why should they distance themselves from the people? Why should people hate the police when the police exist only for their welfare? I wanted to address the dichotomy. It is only in the realm of politics that you see mass movements, but I dreamt of such a mass movement."
In Ramnad district, where Philip was posted as superintendent of police, nearly a thousand people joined the Friends of the Police movement. Asked why they volunteered, a young boy told him, "We want to act as a bridge between the police and the people."
"He explained it so beautifully," recalls Philip. "Friends of the Police is a bridge-building concept."
According to Philip, police are looked upon worldwide as 'friends of the people'. By creating the concept of Friends of the Police, he was beginning a movement that, he believed, would further empower both the people and the police.
The Friends of the Police movement has now been accepted as an international blueprint for community policing. In recognition of his concept, Philip was awarded the inaugural British Gurukul Scholarship for Excellence and Leadership in 1997 for a multi-disciplinary study of management at the London School of Economics.
The Queen's Award for Innovation in Police Training and Development was announced in November 2001. The competition, designed to encourage innovation and good practices in training and development, replaces the annual Queen's Police Gold Medal essay competition.
The topic for 2002 was 'The use of new technologies to overcome barriers to deliver lifelong training and lifelong learning'. The competition was open to serving members of the police, including the special constabulary and civilian support staff, and members of staff of police authorities within the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth.
The results of the prestigious competition were announced on July 4, 2002, and two Indian police officers figured in the list of four innovative projects. An added coincidence -- both K Radhakrishnan and Prateep V Philip come from the state of Tamil Nadu.
The award money of £15,000 each -- the money will be credited to the police force account and transferred to the officers when they are ready to start work -- will help them implement their projects within a year. They have to submit progress reports to the home office in London at the halfway point and at the end of the year. The report will be used to evaluate the projects' success and whether any of the ideas are appropriate for adopting as good practice in other police forces.
Radhakrishnan says of his project, "Our target was to make our police force good in dispute resolution, but we couldn't bring all the police force to the training college to train frequently. To overcome this barrier, we have to use modern technology, namely e-training. Our project was titled: Web-based e-training programmes in dispute resolution, interviewing and record-keeping for officers in all-women police units in Tamil Nadu."
Prateep Philip chose the topic: Documentation and a multimedia centre for training of Friends of the Police. "Police isolation and public antagonism is global. Even in Britain, where the police is so good, a large section of the people are inimical towards them. Through our interactive Web site (www.friendsofpolice.org), we create positive interventions, helping and inspiring people. The multimedia centre aims to encourage better interface between the police and the public by providing training in community policing for both police officers and the community."
"It did not come as a surprise because I was sure the proposal would be considered. But the pleasant surprise was that two officers from outside the UK, and that too from Tamil Nadu, got the award! I am very happy because this involves a very vital cause in society," says a visibly happy Radhakrishnan.
Philip, on the other hand, says, "I started writing the project with the end in sight! Sometimes it materialises and sometimes it doesn't. When it does get fulfilled, however, it satisfies the soul. It's like a continuous feast. It will be a realisation of my dream when the concept behind Friends of the Police gets accepted all over the country and both the police and the public benefit from it."
Both officers have a year to work towards making their dreams a reality. After the final reports are submitted, if the projects have been successfully implemented, both officers will be honoured with certificates.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
Design: Uday Kuckian
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