Hyderabad: Probably for the first time in police history, an IPS officer has been posted back to a district for a second time. The credit goes to Ms Rema Rajeshwari, posted back as superintendent of police, Mahbubnagar. Though it is a much smaller district now, it has not reduced her zeal to do the right thing.
Her claim to fame lie elswhere. She was part of the task force that recommended the setting up of SHE Teams. She also started the SHE Teams in Cyberabad. She was the SP when gangster Nayeemuddin was killed in an encounter. She has won fame as the cop who stopped fake news.
After a decade in various postings, Kerala is a distant dream. Home was where she and her twin sister were brought up by her grandmother Parvath-amma in Munnar on a tea estate. Her mother Krishnamma was a teacher and headmistress at the school started by the Tata group at the estates and her father Ramaswamy Parameshwar retired as deputy tahsildar.
She did her masters in computer science at the Mahatma Gandhi Univer-sity at Kottayam. She got a job as a systems analyst at the Taj Residency in Cochin, but Ms Rajesh-wari was not satisfied with what she was doing.
She decided to shift to Delhi, and joined as copy editor in a magazine called “Competition Bazaar.”
“I was paid to study and I was reading up on current affairs, international affairs and essays on other different subjects,” she says. She was preparing to appear for her civils. IPS was her third preference but she took it up, came to Hyderabad and topped her batch at the National Police Academy, Hyder-abad.
Her first posting was as assault commander with the Greyhounds in Visakhapatnam in 2010. She was the first woman ASP in Jagtial. She was then posted to Nalgonda, another tough district, and brought to Hyderabad on promotion as DSP, Malkajgiri.
Telangana state had just been formed. In the first meeting that Chief Minister K. Chandrase-khar Rao conducted with police officials, he told them that the most important criteria would be safety for women. He constituted a task force and Ms Rajeshwari’s job was to study the best practices in the country and come up with some recommendations. One of them was the setting up of SHE teams.
“When I was DCP Malkajgiri under the Cyberabad commissionerate, I was in-charge of the women safety council of the Cyberabad Security Council. This is a very unique experiment that is happening in Cyberabad, which consists of police officers and corporate executives. It is a well established system.”
“Back then there were 70,000 women employees. When I delivered one of my speeches in Wells Fargo, it was relayed simultaneously to 14 countries. This is how we engaged with them. SHE teams were not operational in Cyberabad. I started them and they became a super hit,” she says.
As SP Ranga Reddy, she took up the task of stopping of rampant child marriages. Ms Rajeshwari says, “Rescuing the girls was the easiest part, but rehabilitation was difficult. We were not finding enough homes and hostels to keep these girls.” There were also children working in brick kilns who were rescued.
It was under her leadership that the encounter that killed Naxalite-turned-gangster Moham-med Nayeemuddin took place. She cannot talk much about that because the matter is sub-judice.
Now she is making truncated Mahbubnagar a safe place. She uses ‘cordon and search’ to eradicate crime. The cops take this opportunity to go sit with the people and have tea or simply talk. “I talk to the women, interact with the old people, kids are given chocolates and most of the time we do it either in the morning or the night because that is when you get the people,” she adds. They also have a small meeting with the community members and then request them to instal CCTV cameras.
Ms Rajeshwari says people are confident that even with a phone call there will definitely be a response and help would be on its way. “We also have a feedback mechanism and I can see if the SI is responding to the call or not. Every morning I take out the data and check the response time for a dial 100 call,” she says.
Mahbubnagar is still a valasa (migrant) zilla. Every household still has one person who is either in Pune or Mumbai. Thanks to Mission Bhagiratha there is water and some of the residents are encouraged to try out agriculture again.
The police ran a huge campaign against sending people to the Gulf on fake visas, as they get arrested there and the family suffers back home. They could arrest a few agents and reopen a few pending cases. “As there was no clue they had just closed the case. We reopened the case, found the perpetrator and arrested him. All this was possible because the constable was empowered and he realised that he was playing an important role after realising that they were the leaders on the ground,” she says.
Ms Rajeshwari uses kalabrindams who go to villages and sing songs of awareness as they sing and tell stories to the people. Cultural tools came in very handy when she was SP Gadwal and had to control spread of fake news.
She got information that people were not sleeping outside as they usually do when the weather turns warm in March. She sent her constables to find out why. “They came up with a lot of videos, voice messages in WhatsApp. We realised why the villagers had a self-imposed curfew though it was jatra time,” Ms Rajeshwari says. The videos contained gory images and a voice messages spoke of Parthi gangs prowling outside that would kill people.
“I was shocked for two reasons, because I did not know everybody had a smart phone. The literacy rate in Gadwal is only 49 per cent and they had access to internet and they were active in WhatsApp groups and on the Facebook,” she says.
She personally conducted training sessions for the constables to handle fake news. She called sarpanches, hired a wedding hall and conducted an session for them. They gave me a lot of suggestions,” she says.
In Gadwal they had 23 incidents provoked by fake news but luckily no deaths. This was because the campaign was on.
She tweeted about the outreach campaign and Bloomberg came to talk to her and did a story. She started writing articles about all this and was invited by the government to be part of a group to bring about a law to stop fake news on social media.
In mid-April, the Parthi gang rumour stopped but another one started about a child-lifting gang. The cultural groups got together and wrote a song and explained that the public should not lynch anyone. This became a super hit and the BBC came and covered it.
The last time she was in Mahbubnagar, she did a lot of work for Joginis. So imagine her shock when last month she got a call that a 14-year-old girl was made a jogini. “The girl had already been dedicated to the temple with a proper puja. We booked a case on the parents,” she says.
“These are a number of social issues and the only way I can cover all the areas through my field officers. So I run campaigns for Jogini rehabilitation, saving child brides, a dedicated campaign against child sexual abuse. The last one has been my longest campaigns and I have been running it for four years now. Child sexual abuse is one of the worst kept secrets. It happens in every household but nobody talks about it,” Ms Rajeshwari says....