Making an Indian Slum Crime free: Story of Kiran Bedi
The duty of every policemen has been thought to be detection of any criminal activity in the society and punishing the guilty. It is to safeguard the interest of the people and ensure their security. However, a lady in the 1980s chose to differ slightly from the above conceived notion.
It was around the year 1981. One of the slums in West Delhi depicted a very pathetic scenario in all social aspects. It was considered to be a hub of all criminal activities in the police directory. A majority of the slum population including the women and children were involved in extortion and robbery in the local areas. Kiranji once described a tactic used by the burglars to rob the wealthy people. They had some 8-9 years old boys in their group. It was very easy for the thin, short boy to get into the house through the window and open the lock from inside. The big burglars got in and made their day!
For most of the time the locality was completely ignored by the government. Whenever a theft was reported in the nearby areas the police raided this slum. In many cases the culprits were caught and put behind the bars. But this created a more complicated situation for the captives. They had two options: either to bribe the police or to hire a lawyer to fight their case. In both the options they needed money (many times their entire savings). After getting out of the jail by using either of the two means, they resorted back to their previous profession to earn their living. This created a vicious cycle: stealing, going to jail, getting out using money and then stealing again to pay their debt!
Finding a change…
Kiran Bedi noticed this cycle and its harmful consequences. The first thing that she did is go to the locality and talk to the people. She investigated the matter to find out every detail of the activities going on. In a conversation one of the slum women said “We want to get out of this mess. But at this point of time this seems impossible.” To this Kiranji replied, “We will make it possible. You just need to have the desire to change.”
She realised that the only solution to this problem is to provide the people with employment. The next step she took was to set up many sewing machines for the women. Surprisingly she did this without any financial assistance from the government. She called the local shopkeepers and requested them to donate the machines. Her warning to them was that if the people are not earning by fair means then they will resort to illegal practices and steal from their shops only for a living!
This was the beginning of hope in the once scornful society. After that within a very short span of time few schools were set up in collaboration with various NGOs. Since most of the children worked as daily wage labours the duration classes that were held was of 2 hours maximum. The kids were told inspirational stories relating to freedom struggle and Indian history. After that they were asked to write whatever they have understood and learnt. A single copy was maintained throughout the year for each students and it was evaluated at the end of the year. The kids who performed well and improved in studies over time were awarded in an annual function.
Within a few years the crime rates in the locality dropped drastically. The men were given decent jobs. The women were satisfied with their sewing business. The children were happy going to schools and the incentives given to them further motivated them to study. The thing one must realize is that the locality changed not because of the fear of punishment but because of the hope for a better life. In an interview Kiranji once said,
“For me policing is not punitive. It always stood for social welfare. But tough welfare. Where I could command welfare, I could demand welfare, and I could produce welfare. And, if necessary, I could produce welfare punitively. Policing is not sending people to prison. Policing is to show them the route to correction, maybe through the prison.”