Sexual Harassment in Schools: What To Consider as Delhi Police’s Operation Nirbheek Is Implemented Citywide

14 October 2015

In the first week of August this year, the Delhi Police of the north-east district in the city launched an effort that aims to educate children about sexual harassment and abuse, apart from providing them with a platform to report such incidents. The initiative, which was earlier called Operation “Sakhi”—friend—has now been renamed Operation “Nirbheek”—which translates to “without fear.” Under this programme, police officials visit schools that fall under their jurisdiction and conduct interactive sessions to spread awareness about sexual harassment and crimes.

With the help of Komal, a short animated film, produced by Childline India Foundation—a  non-governmental organisation that works with the ministry of women and child development—the officials explain the concept of “good touch” and a “bad touch” to school children, and encourage them to report instances of the latter. Thereafter, complaint boxes are installed in each school, for the children to file written complaints if they want to. A female constable from the local police station is assigned to make weekly visits to the school in order to receive both verbal and written grievances. The police officers at the station then go through all these complaints, and decide the necessary course of action. This entire process is conducted under the supervision of the office of the deputy commissioner of police.

The idea for Nirbheek was reportedly conceived by the deputy commissioner of police for the district, Veenu Bansal. When I met Bansal on 30 September, he told me that Operation Nirbheek had covered around 270 schools of the north-east district. “There has been a deluge—we have received over thousand verbal and over 150 written complaints. Of these, seven were serious complaints, so FIRs [first information report] were registered and arrests made. The victims in these cases were all girls of class fifth to tenth,” revealed Bansal, before concluding that the over-all response from students, parents and teachers had been overwhelmingly positive. “There can be no resistance except from perpetrators,” he declared.

“Most of these crimes are not reported since they are usually committed by acquaintances or within the family,” Bansal told me. “So we are reaching out to the children and providing a conducive forum for their voices.” On 7 October, a standing order was issued by the Commissioner of Delhi Police, Bhim Sain Bassi, to implement Operation Nirbheek across all girls’ and co-educational (co-ed) schools in the city. The order appoints the assistant commissioner of police (ACP) of every sub-division as in charge, to be assisted by the Station House Office (SHO), who will be the chief co-ordinator. It also directs that the SHO appoint a female constable who is “a courteous, disciplined upper or lower subordinate woman police officer as ‘Nirbheek Woman Police Officer’ [NWPO] for each girls’/co-ed school under his jurisdiction.” Further, the order details the duties of the NWPO. In addition to the role noted above, which includes speaking with the girls and handling the Nirbheek Complaint Box, the report also suggests methods that the constable could use to “allow girls to express freely and unhestitatingly,”  such  as “group plays, projector shows, Natak [sic], speech by participating girls etc.”

The order also states that the DCP of each district will hold monthly meetings to keep a check on the programme, and that the Joint Commissioner of Police for each range will “periodically review the quality of implementation” of Operation Nirbheek.  “It was my initiative, and now it has been adopted across Delhi,” Bansal said, with a hint of pride.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.