In our work in communities living with deep deprivation and exposed to everyday violence, we’ve supported families whose children have come to harm — children who have been sexually abused, stalked and harassed, or lured away on the pretext of work and gone missing. For many parents, coping with this ever-present threat of violence has meant forcing their daughter to stay home, drop out of school, isolated ‘for her safety’, or early marriage. We’ve seen that while many families have needed access to the police to seek protection or recourse from harm, fear, or experiences of being turned away in the past have made them reluctant. This has meant that children continue to be harmed. To live with violence or the threat of it.
Yet, when it comes down to it, the police are the first point of contact for almost anyone who needs the protection of the law. That’s where we’d go with families, sitting in police thanas to ensure that an FIR was filed for a missing child, a boy senselessly beaten at work by his maalik (employer), or a girl who had been abused. It was where we’d go when adolescent girls talked about how they are harassed everyday on their way to school, or the public toilet, afraid to tell anyone at home for fear of the repercussions. Despite decades of mistrust and fear of approaching the police, it’s where the journey would begin for a victim or survivor of harm seeking justice and protection.
That’s why we’ve started Bharosa (trust) — a program to build a bridge between the police, women and girls so that there is increased access to protection and safety. So that adolescent girls, their mothers, and families have the confidence to walk into a police station and file a complaint, or to call a police helpline number, ask for help and get a response. To know that action is taken. It’s an initiative to establish a platform for ongoing conversations and joint actions so that women and girls can be safer to live the life they choose.
In the last 10 days, on May 20 and May 28 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the police made a commitment to build this bridge and establish Bharosa with women and girls. 65 police officers from 16 thanas in Varanasi, and 19 thanas in Patna attended workshops where they made themselves come closer to understanding a child’s experience of harm — the helplessness, terror, fear. Coming together for the first of a year-long series of Bharosa workshops, they were part of discussions and role plays on what is a trauma informed response — understanding what a child has endured, how to have a conversation with sensitivity and why that’s crucial both for the child to begin to feel safe again, as well as for them to be able to do their job well.
Over the next year, these officers will conduct community outreach meetings to talk to families about being alert to early warning signs of child harm and about laws that exist for their protection; they will sit down with adolescent girls and listen and respond to their experiences of danger and safety.
This last week, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar police personnel made a pledge to girls and women — to be close at hand, responsive and accountable.
The author, Deepika Khatri, is the Training and Impact Specialist – Government Partnerships, at Aangan