With a catchy tag-line, ‘Kam se kam 18 varsh ki umra tak padna aur padhana hain, Jeevan sukhad banana hain (Have to study till 18 years to build a prosperous life),’ police have turned a social reformer in the tribal heartland of Jhabua.
The police here visit schools, colleges and tribal hostels, and administer oath to girls that they will study till they are at least 18 years old.
Explaining the reason for treading this offbeat track, Mahesh Chandra Jain, Jhabua superintendent of police, said, “When I looked into the list of serious crimes in the district, 50 percent of them were kidnapping of minor girls. However, they were not kidnapping per se, but elopement. When the girls are minor, police register a case of kidnapping, following the Supreme Court guidelines.”
The consequences are harsh for the accused in a case of kidnapping. The boy, with whom the girl elopes, is put in jail and most often it takes a long time to get bail. The case becomes a major setback for his progress in life. Consequences for the girl are mental trauma and most unfortunately, end of schooling.
The initiative by the police was intended to put an end to elopement before 18 years, and to sensitise the girls. “We administer oath to girls that they will study till they are at least 18. We also counsel them that if they study, there is a possibility that they will get a good job. There are vacancies in the police and other departments meant for tribal candidates, which are not being filled up as there are no eligible candidates. This should end,” said Jain, adding that he hopes their initiative will not only reduce kidnapping cases, but also help girls lead a better life.
The work has not gone unnoticed. Shakuntala Damore, assistant commissioner, tribal welfare department, said that counselling by police officials is being appreciated by girls.
Shalini, a student of Ratitlai high school, said she felt inspired after taking the oath and attending the counselling session. “I know it is for our own good. I will go tell other girls in my neighbourhood too about it,” she said.
Nivedita Saxena, who works for protection of girls, said that usually police have a scary image of law enforcer. But the way the Jhabua police have come forward to protect girls and stop crimes against them through counselling, revamps this image, she said.