In four districts in India’s western Rajasthan state the police know where to go looking for suspects after a theft is reported.
It is Mevda, a village where police raids are common.
Women here have learnt to live without their husbands for months on end. When the police raid the village, men take to their heels. And, they never return until cops brake investigation. But, last week, when the police cars drove into the village, men did not scurry for cover.
Instead, they welcomed the men in uniform. For last week, 19 of them, including two women, surrendered before the police in a bid to return to mainstream.
The police have long labelled them “the most wanted” in a number of criminal cases of theft and burglary pending against them in various police stations in Chittorgarh, Bheelwara, Rajsamand and Udaipur districts.
“It was tiring to keep running. We could not spend time with our family. Even if we were not involved in a crime, the police would raid the village and harass us for our antecedents,” says Shantilal, one of the suspects who handed themselves over to the police.
Thus Mevda, a village of 250 families in Chhittoregarh district, all of whom belong to the Kanjar tribe, traditionally dubbed as “criminals” by the administration, witnessed a rare get-together of villagers and the police.
Udaipur’s Inspector General of Police N.R.K. Reddy, Chittoregarh’s Superintendent of Police Mahesh Goyal and other police officers posed happily with the suspects.
A non-governmental organisation, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (Ci ts), took up the challenge three months ago to rid the village of its crime slur.
Says Manoj Goswami, coordinator of Cuts Centre for Human Development: “It took us three months to convince their families and the village chieftains that the police were ready to cooperate with them if they returned to mainstream and stopped committing crimes for livelihood. Meanwhile, I extracted an assurance from the police that during this time, no policeman would enter Mevda without people from Cuts.”
Goswami says when the volunteers first tried to interact with the Kanjar tribesmen, they were sceptical. “We involved two local body members from among them and a social worker, Roshan Mewadi, who also runs a public distribution shop in the village, to convince the villagers that we were serious about bringing them back to normal life,” Goswami adds. Three village chieftains, two government schoolteachers and some literate youths saw reason in it and became friendly with Cuts volunteers.
“Initially, we managed to convince only 10 suspsects to surrender. They, in turn, convinced nine more. We told them the police would not beat them, would not try to recover anything from them, and would also request the judiciary to give a sympathetic hearing to bail applications,” says Goswami.
When they were produced before the local magistrates, getting bail was not difficult.
But why did they suddenly decide to say goodbye to the only means of livelihood they knew? Shanti, one of the two women, who surrendered, has the answer: “Most of the men had wanted to stop the life of crime and lead a normal life, but the past hounded them. The police also framed us in false cases. Despite all this, men were worried about their wives. Since they were absconding for months together, the wives often threatened to run away with someone else.”
The threats, adds Mangilal, one of the village chieftains, made most of the men listen to reason. “In the last few years, some of the women have actually left their husbands for other men,” he says.
Crime is the only source of income for these villagers. After the suspects’ surrender, the biggest challenge before the NGO and police authorities would be to provide them with alternative livelihood. “Some of them have been provided work under the National Employment Guarantee Scheme; we are working with the government to extend benefits of other such schemes to this area,” Goswami says.
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