Pooja Chaudhuri Chaudhuri
The only fiction I enjoy is in books and movies.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau data of 2015, Maharashtra is ranked 2nd in the country in IPC crimes committed by juveniles. Of the national total of 31,396 crimes, Maharashtra contributed 5,482 cases i.e. 17.46%.
The state is ranked 5th in the country in SLL (Special and Local Laws) crimes committed by juveniles. Of the national total of 2,037, Maharashtra contributed 211 cases i.e. 10.3%.
In NDPS cases committed by juveniles, Maharashtra is ranked 2nd with 28 cases.
The above statistics caused serious concerns in the upper establishment of the state police as Maharashtra is one of the more developed states in the country in terms of education. But the overwhelming data showed that its youngsters were moving towards a violent direction.
Most interventions in this regard were in the form of community policing and a conventional community model was designed to foster greater interaction between police officers and students.
The general idea was that the officers would go to schools and colleges, and lecture students on various issues – drug abuse, sexual harassment, corruption, etc.
Because of its top-down nature, the model proved to be futile – it was more like a classroom where the children sat through the lecture and later dismissed what was taught.
The Maharashtra police needed to engage more constructively with the juvenile population vis-à-vis crime and radicalization.
During his time at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, IPS officer Harssh A Poddar had conducted a workshop for blind children. The format of the workshop, however, not a conventional lecture on disability rights. Instead, the students were divided into small groups of policy making conclaves, and asked to draft a law for the differently abled.
IPS probationers provided the students with the basics of legislative drafting such as the definition of disability, rights of the differently abled, implementation, penal sanctions.
This induced the children to act as their own agencies – examine how a law should be drafted, what would be the consent on the part of the state, and what are their basic disability rights.
The success of this model in raising awareness through participation and thought-leadership caused the then DGP in the Maharashtra government to encourage Poddar to design a similar model at a larger scale for the youth of Maharashtra.
Thus began the concept of Director General’s Youth Parliament Championship – conceptualised and coordinated by Harssh A Poddar, IPS, ASP Karveer.
It is undeniable that crime has a strong backward linkage with delinquency spawned by alienation. In many instances, this alienation can take menacing forms such as terror radicalisation and heinous juvenile crime. This programme seeks to create a platform whereby law enforcement agencies can guide impressionable minds against the ramifications of such tendencies.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Harssh Poddar explained the Youth Parliament model.
“The pilot project was started in The Nath Valley School (NVS), Aurangabad and the Aurangabad Police Public School (APPS). We gave a specific bunch of students a number of topics related to crime, and law and order – sexual offenses against women, corruption, economic offenses, naxalism, terrorism, etc. The students were divided into teams of three where each speaker was assigned a part they would talk about,” said Poddar.
An impact assessment conducted after the pilot project adduced a strong growing awareness among the participants about the issues they had engaged upon. More significantly, it was noticed that the students (in particular those from the lower and middle-income groups) were relying on family members for information and research. Each student was, therefore, acting as a hub of awareness for the entire family on the issue.
It was consequently decided to scale the project into a district-wide championship.
The inaugural edition of the DGYPC (Director General’s Youth Parliament Championship) took place on June 25, 2015. It witnessed the participation of ten schools from both the rural and urban areas of Aurangabad.
Students and faculty from 47 other schools and colleges of the district attended the event.
In this edition, the model of the championship consisted of each participating team being assigned a particular social issue from the following – Left-wing extremism, terrorism, communalism, corruption economic offences, white-collar crimes, crimes against women, substance abuse, human trafficking, and vehicular traffic compliance.
The teams were thereafter required to assume the role of a policy-maker and present the following aspects of the issue assigned to them-
One of the teams was given the topic ‘eve teasing’, and to deal with the problem the children suggested to make ‘beggar squads’, where beggars would act as intelligence providers for the police.
To prevent domestic violence, another adolescent came up with a campaign called ‘bell bajao’, where any one who hears a husband abusing his wife, would ring the bell of the house to break the chain of events and startle the offender.
The success of the project in Aurangabad and Kolhapur ranges led to its replication across five districts of Marathwada.
A total of 110 schools participated in the Marathawada edition, taking the project to approximately 550 adolescent participants.
Between February and March 2017, the DGYPC entered its third and present edition, where it is being implemented across all five districts that constitute the region of Western Maharashtra (namely Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Solapur). The implementation is being done in three phases.
The first phase of the Youth Parliament project has been completed successfully all over Western Maharashtra, exactly as per schedule (March 6 was the deadline).
Within the span of just 14 days, 1,410 schools have been involved in the championship, 4,230 students of the age group of 14-19 have participated and over 2,300 students have attended the event as an audience.
The project was able to reach out to about 6,500 youngsters.
A panel of psychology students under the coordination of the HoD (Psychology) of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University (BAMU) was nominated to scientifically assess the decriminalisation and deradicalisation impact that the project was having upon the target adolescents.
The students designed a ‘Thematic Apperception Test’ (TAT), which is a non-intrusive mean of testing the potential of an individual to veer towards crime or radicalization. A person who obtains a score of above 38 points in the test can be said to be potentially in a danger zone.
When the above test was conducted on the participants of the DGYPC, it was noticed that the average score of the participants had dropped from 35.82 to 30.33 (a fall of approximately 5.5 points), suggesting a marked reduction in the potential for radicalization/criminalization among the participants.
IPS Harssh Poddar’s initiative thus proved to become immensely successful in shaping the volatile minds of adolescents. With a strong desire to give the youth of our nation a life of opportunities, he left his job as a corporate lawyer in London and decided to appear for the civil service examination.
He is a law graduate from NUJS, Kolkata and pursued his Masters in International and Constitutional Law from Balliol College, the University of Oxford as a British Chevening scholar. Following which he was working as a corporate lawyer with Clifford Chance, London.
After securing rank 361 in the UPSC examination 2013, he decided to opt for the Indian Police Service.
Since then, he has been working as an IPS officer with the Maharashtra police and bringing in innovative policies to tackle juvenile delinquency in the state.
The youth of a country is its backbone. The initiative taken by IPS Harssh Poddar and the state of Maharashtra to uplift the youth is commendable.
The Logical Indian appreciates the efforts made in this regard and hopes that other states draw inspiration from the project and initiate similar projects.
To know more about the Youth Parliament Project, visit its Facebook Page
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