Sharply dressed in deep blue shirts and khaki trousers, each woman from this 35-member team, exudes confidence. Christened ‘Shakthi’, this special women squad comes under the ‘Mahilalaku Cheruvaga’ programme. This women police team, in Vizag, is the first initiative of its kind, in the State of Andhra Pradesh.
Aged between 18-25 years, the squad comprises of 20 constables handpicked from the last batch of recruits. Added to it are 5 slightly more experienced members already in service in departments such as the Home Guards. This batch is led by 5 senior members of AP Police. Shakthi Team is led under the able guidance of R. Srinivas, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Vizag, in charge of the Women’s Police Station in Vizag. He is also the Nodal Officer for the Shakthi Teams.
“Rather than increasing the number of registered cases, our motto is to prevent crime from happening. Awareness sessions, thus target not only women but also men. Youngsters are made aware of the consequences that await them if they are caught in wrongdoing. They are told that their passports are seized, barring them from looking for opportunities abroad. Such information works as a deterrent in many cases”, shares ACP Srinivas, as he explains the overall objective.
Officially flagged off on 25 April 2019, in Vizag, this was the brainchild of ex-AP DGP R P Thakur, who conceptualised it as a state-wide programme. With its reach extending to women in urban and rural regions of the State, the pilot programme kicked off in Vizag with this 35 member team.
The Police force has a range of squads to serve the public. From Rakshak mobiles to Highway Patrols and even Beach Patrols, these are dispatched as soon as a complaint is received at the Control Room. However, there was nothing specifically allotted for women across society.
So, in a scenario, where a Rakshak mobile has been dispatched to address conflict in a locality, and a woman calls for help at the same time, it would not be possible for the Rakshak to reach out to both. Additionally, it was seen that women find it easy to talk to other women about the problems they face. Therefore, a force dedicated to addressing the growing problems of women was thought necessary, and the Shakthi Team was conceptualized.
Training and Operations of the Shakthi Team
The main objective is that women in distress can immediately reach out to this team. Well trained, at the Vizianagaram Academy, the Shakthi Team is adept in martial arts, and are also taught driving two-wheelers and four-wheelers. They are also given an understanding about mechanisms of vehicles so that they can quickly take care of small repairs, in times of need. Knowledge of law and sessions on counselling skills are other elements that form part of their rigorous training. The programme includes nine months of basic training, followed by one month of training on special skills.
How the Shakthi Team Works
The complainant, who is in distress, can quickly reach out to the police by calling the Control Room at 100, 1090 or 112, the latter being a national number. The complaint is then directed to the Shakthi Team. All squad vehicles are fitted with a GPS tracking system. In this way, the Control Room can immediately spot the closest unit, either a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler, to address the complaint. Every complaint is addressed within seven minutes.
On a normal day, a patrol unit of six women is assigned to reach a woman who calls for help. Provided with new vehicles, which include four-wheelers and two-wheelers, team members are given regular routes via a daily schedule. Stops along their routes include schools, colleges, bus stops and areas where eve-teasing and other mischievous behaviours commonly take place. Equipped with tasers, body cameras, manpack and even pepper sprays; this team offers support to women when they need it the most.
Inroads to Change
Barely a month old and this young team is already making inroads into positive change. Not only were they able to bring eve teasers to the task, but were also able to offer support during an industrial dispute and catch a consignment of ganja, among other things. With eve teasing being the cause for most complaints, followed by family disputes; this team also maintains the confidentiality of the complainant if duly requested to do so. Apart from their regular duties, the Shakthi Team is also curbing the activity of drinking in public places and causing a nuisance.
Awareness Campaigns and Future Plans
Still, in its nascent stage, awareness about this blue-shirted team needs to grow, and efforts to spread the word through awareness campaigns are ongoing. In order to make more people know about this police initiative, campaigns are being conducted at market places, schools, colleges and organisations. Familiarisation sessions have been held with fisherwomen, GVMC road sweepers, villagers and beggar women (especially those with toddlers). Relevant topics like good touch-bad touch, eve-teasing, dowry harassment, law, etc. are elaborated upon. As the training of new batches is underway, the next step for this Statewide programme is to spread its presence to the rural regions as well.
Contact: 100 and 1090 (local contact centers) / 112 (National contact center)
Timings: 9AM to 8PM