The Police Didis Of Mumbai
Aparna Varma spoke to PSI Shailaja Shinde about the Police Didi campaign and the struggles she faces while safeguarding children from abuse and harassment.
In 2016, after a 3-year-old child was raped in an International school by the Principal and the trustee, the Mumbai Police took it upon themselves to go to each school and talk to the children about Child Safety and Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. A campaign called 'Police Didi' was launched with the objective of creating awareness amongst the children and to build a trusting and friendly relationship between the Police and the children so that if ever an abuser tries to corner you, you know how to deal with them.
I got to meet Ms. Shailaja Sashikanth Shinde, a Lady PSI (Police Sub-Inspector) at Gamdevi Police station, however as soon as I met her, she was called in to attend to a new case. I followed her around and prepared myself for a Vogue 73 questions style interview through the bustling police station as she managed her tasks for the day. Finally, at 7.30 in the evening, I got to sit down with her and fire away. Trust me, being a Police Officer is not easy and nor is it easy to convince an officer to allow you to follow them around, all of which I’m grateful I got to do for the insight it offered me.
Sitting in a dimly lit room, the walls of which are covered in police uniforms and carefully hung salwar kameezes, I spoke to this brave lady about how she educates and assists children to protect themselves from predators and abusers.
Tell us more about the Police Didi Campaign.
This campaign is to make the children aware of what goes on around them. We observed that the children sometimes did not even realise they were being sexually abused or assaulted and many a time, because the identity of the police is made to seem like that of a villain, the abusers assault the kids and threaten them by saying they’d take them to the police. Mumbai Police decided to reach the masses, change this prejudice and also to make sure the children depend on us and call us their trusted people rather than someone they are scared of. In this intervention we go to the schools every once in while and speak with the students about prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. We further teach them how to prevent cyber-crimes and to stay safe in real life as well as virtually.
Why were you chosen for this campaign?
Every station has one lady officer or two who are chosen for this campaign. Kids require someone friendly and influential. Since I’m a bit bubbly and I like being around children, I was appointed in my area for this campaign. I am passionate about this project and since the past year, I have come up with my own insights in this program which I have observed the children really enjoy. For instance I also speak with them about online relationships to get back their attention as that has been a hot topic now-a-days.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m originally from Satara but I got posted in Mumbai. I got married two years ago, my husband works in Pune.
What was life like before becoming a Police Officer, did you always want to be one?
I lived a simple life. College, school, friends and family. I completed my BA in Geography. Like every other confused kid, in school, I used to think I’d become an architect or an interior decorator or something leaning towards creative work. While in college, I applied for an Air Hostess' position but my father strictly refused so I ended up in a law college. Although I was there, studying law, I was disturbed because I could not find myself in the field and so I turned the tables for myself, applied for MPSC and well, the rest is history.
How does it feel to be a Police Officer?
Oh, I feel so confident and proud! This uniform makes me feel important and responsible. I feel like I am someone.
Walk us through the process when you find a victim after or during the campaign seminars?
We speak on the topic of prevention so it is rare that a case is found explicitly but we have occassionally found heinous cases of abuse.
The very first thing is to file an FIR. Then a complete body check-up is done in a government hospital unless the parents have completed the test in a private hospital. Then as per the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act) protocol, we deal with the case. There is a different court for such cases, we make sure we are around the child in our civil uniforms and also that the case is taken up fast and ends fast.
How has your experience been while speaking with the children?
It is a stress buster in a way to go and speak with the children. We divide the kids into groups according to their age. For instance the age group of kids from 1st to 4th grade, or 8th to 10th grade. With the 1st group it is always fun and chatty but with the higher secondary group, those kids sometimes know more than we do and their only gain from the seminar is to have fun. At those times we have to behave strictly and make sure the students listen and remember the right information.
What is the training procedure for this campaign?
I had to go on training for a day and then, I started visiting the schools.
What are the challenges you face as a Police didi?
(She took some time here, looked up at the ceiling, then gathered herself, I could see her visibly stiffen)
As a Police Officer, we always have some challenges to overcome. Especially around Tardeo/Gamdevi area, the schools are well off and the people’s image of Police is that of trouble. Initially, the schools did not like us visiting them as they had a reputation to maintain and did not want a Police Officer to linger around as any slur of gossip would be an end to their image. So, they would either not allow us or give us very less time to speak with the children.
Now 1 year down the line, I see students from the same schools visiting the police station to see how the police station works! We interact with these kids, they get to learn what an FIR is, what the duties of different officers at the station are and so on.
Another problem that I faced was that of a language barrier. I am not so fluent with my English, so I speak to the students in Hindi or Marathi. Mostly, all students understand Hindi so I comfortably speak with them in Hindi then.
What has been the impact of this campaign?
In the past two years, people have been more open to approaching the police for abuse cases and most importantly, the kids are aware.
Have you ever been harassed/abused/assaulted?
Of course, although what you have used are big words. But I have been eve-teased, during college, many boys have tried to ask me out and I have hated it. Every girl, sadly goes through this at least once in her life. I remember the boys in my college writing me love letters, or waiting for me all day outside my college, or asking to speak with me at some place alone. I would be so angry about all this because I was least interested so I could not understand why I had to deal with this. I would very confidently say NO to all these people.
At some point in college, an auto driver started following me around. He would play cheap songs on the music system in his auto, follow me around in his auto while I was walking, sometimes wait outside my house.
What did you do about this situation then?
I was really scared because suddenly I felt alone. If he was following me, although I’m on a street full of people, it would feel as if it is just him and I. I could not talk to anyone about this in my family because, A) how to talk to my family about such things? B) I did not want to create a ruckus.
My friends knew! We tried talking politely to the guy saying that he was like a brother to me and that I wasn’t interested so he should stop. After this, he would stop for a couple of days but again the same thing would happen. Ultimately, one day as I walking on the fly-over and this “driver” started driving me crazy, I turned around, asked him to step out of the auto, remember this is at the middle of the flyover, I asked him to step out, looked straight into his eyes and gave him a good tight slap. In that moment I felt so liberated. All the following and the trouble he had cost me was paid off (she laughs) in this slap. I asked him to never show me his face again and then I walked off.
What are the challenges you face as a wife and as an officer?
Some days, I feel my husband would have been better off marrying some other girl who would have been able to give him some time but I can’t help but join these thoughts with the times when he has told me that he likes me more when I am on duty rather than when I am snobbishly hanging out at home.
He says that the Mrs. Shinde in the uniform is so different than the Mrs. Shinde in a colour dress. These conversations make me feel that we are good the way we are and that everything will work out.
I have always thought though that the government should have an option of choice posting for its employees so that for a couple like mine, we get to live in one city.
Do you feel strong or less threatened after being a “Police Officer”?
I do! (she gives me a broad smile, and then realises I was expecting an elaborate answer and begins speaking again)
I still am worried because now, the scope of my responsibility is widened and I have to now not just think about my safety but of 10,000 other women. It’s a part of my job and I try my best to do it.
What do you do to calm yourself down from all the stress?
I am someone who likes to read. If I am given a book I compulsively finish reading it in 2 days or else I don’t feel good at all.
What do you particularly mention in your seminars with the kids?
To the kids and the parents, I usually say that it is completely understood that you are busy but please take time off for each other. Be clear of what is going on in your life as well as theirs.
Keep the gadgets away and talk to your friends, family, neighbours. Meet with your peers and have good discussions about what is going on in the world. Introspect on your life and whatever it is that you do, you will find inspiration within yourself and you will do well in life.