Some 250 students from classes VI-X are crammed into the small hall of Crescent Public School, a modest institution that stands out among the many small shops that line a busy, dusty street in Northeast Delhi’s Seelampur area. The cacophony of the children’s banter ends abruptly when six uniformed men walk in. Additional Commissioner of Police Anand Kumar Mishra takes the mike and tries to break the ice.
So, do you like homework?” he asks. When the students remain silent, he tries again: “So, do your teachers scold you for not doing homework?” A girl raises her hand and says, “They scold us because they love us.”
Next, Mishra asks, “When you look at the police, how do you feel?” A girl says, “It feels like a crime has happened.” Mishra replies, “If you have a problem at home, you share it with your parents. For school problems, you go to teachers. But for problems related to society, especially those that threaten your safety, there is police.”
Mishra now explains why his team is at the school. He turns on a projector for a presentation on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch. He explains how touching certain body parts like hands is ‘good’, while touching the thighs is ‘bad’. He next plays a short animated film called Komal, which shows a girl being tricked by an uncle who sexually harasses her.
“We are here as part of Operation Nirbheek, which encourages you to fearlessly complain about anyone giving you a bad touch,” says Mishra.
The session at Crescent school is among 300 such interactions conducted at 425 of 556 schools in Northeast Delhi since August 1, when Deputy Commissioner (Northeast) Veenu Bansal launched the operation to encourage students, especially girls, to come forward and report cases of abuse.
So far, 325 verbal complaints and 37 written complaints — dropped in a box installed by police in each school — have been made. Of these, four FIRs have been registered. The first was filed by a Class X girl in Seelampur against her father. “The girl had told her mother about what her father was doing to her but she was advised to suffer in silence,” says Bansal. The father has been arrested.
The second FIR was registered by a Class VI student against her brother, a minor, alleging rape. He is now in a juvenile home. The third was lodged by a Class VI girl against her landlord’s son, and the fourth by several girls against a teacher “who would touch them inappropriately”. Both have been arrested.
At Crescent, Mishra hopes to extract a similar response. He asks students to share their stories with Zafrabad police station SHO C L Meena, under whose area the school falls. Meena gives his number and asks students to call him at any time.
To help students open up, he switches off the mike. Soon, constable Swati Sharma is circled by several girls who share their stories. Most complaints are generic — of shopkeepers passing lewd comments when the girls walk back home or go for tuitions.
One girl comes forward with a serious complaint. “A rickshaw puller behaved indecently once, and I stopped hiring him,” says the girl. “Does the rickshaw belong to the school” asks Sharma. “Yes,” she says. A teacher intervenes, holds the girl’s hands and looks her in the eyes. In tears now, the girl is unable to speak. Meena asks the teacher to let them do their job. “It seems the teacher was trying to silence the girl,” says Sharma.
The team is done for the day. They head back to record the three serious complaints they received, and to invite the students’ parents for a discussion.