By Nivedita Singh:
The next time you plan to bunk classes, think twice, especially if you live in Kottayam where the police have a unique approach of keeping students where they belong – in school. Known as The Gurukulam Project, this initiative by the Kottayam Police aims to keep students away from the nexus of crime and drugs, which they often innocently fall prey to. Interestingly, over 600 schools and colleges of the district are now part of this project, and many more will join from the new academic year.
So, how did this project come to be? It all started in 2013 when during a homicide investigation it came to light that hundreds of students were involved in substance abuse. The situation was so alarming that even Class 10 students were involved. The students would change out of their uniforms and move around freely in movie theatres, bus stops, railway stations and other isolated spots. Drugs and alcohol were almost always a part of the mix.
This state of affairs prompted the then Deputy Superintendent of Police V. Ajith to come up with a master plan to get students back on track. At first, the police conducted routine raids to round up students who were not in class. However, the students were not arrested. Instead, the school authorities and parents were informed and students would be let off with only a warning.
Going forward, to make the intervention more robust, several newer systems have been put into place, such as the online attendance tracking system designed voluntarily by engineering students, which shares information on a daily basis with parents, explains Arun Kumar K.R., Senior Civil Police Officer at the Deputy Superintendent’s office in Kottayam.
“We receive the attendance list from each school and college every day. Based on this list, a policeperson will call up the absentees’ parents and verify the reason of their absence. The parents and school authorities will then be cautioned in case of any unauthorised absence of their wards while a parallel search to chase them down will be launched, simultaneously,” explains Officer Arun. In a span of one year, they recorded 18,000 absentee details! According to the police, most students who have been absent without the knowledge of parents have in some way been involved in drugs and other activities.
“So, we appointed special people at the cinema theatre, alcohol shops, and in certain isolated places to keep a watch over students. We intend to take no legal action against these students. Instead, the focus is on taking steps to prevent them from indulging in criminal activities, providing them counselling and rehabilitation. After all, if the base of a child is disturbed, then how can we expect a strong future for him or her?” observed District Police Chief, S Sateesh Bino.
The project is now functioning well in all the four sub-divisions of Kottayam, and each sub-division has a counselling centre for students. The psychologists who do their jobs voluntarily have saved over 50 students through their efforts.
So, what causes students to go astray? According to the police, parental care, or the lack of it is a common factor when it comes to students who get caught up in crime. Either the parents are too busy in their lives or they are not able to get involved properly with the child. However, around 10% come from good families and just happen to get into bad company.
The biggest challenge has been getting schools to accept that their students can be involved in nefarious activities. However, once on board, the school’s details are kept confidential, so that no school feels any shame. After all the main intention of the police is not to harass the school, child or the family but protect the child. Officer Arun has some sound advice for teachers and school authorities. “They must not discriminate among the students after their actions are highlighted. This can cause even more damage to the child,” he shares.
Inspired by this project, the Kochi police joined hands with around 70 colleges and schools to launch a similar model. And going a step further, the vision and determination of one good policeman to make a change, has now inspired the Kerala government to launch ‘Clean Campus, Safe Campus‘. This state-wide campaign unites parents, teachers, society and the government for one common mission – to keep our school children safe. After all, children are the future of the winds of change.