How an Andhra cop became a global anti-trafficking heroBy Mohammed Shafeeq, IANS
Thursday, June 17, 2010
HYDERABAD - An Andhra Pradesh policeman, who has just been named by the US among nine anti-trafficking heroes worldwide, says a victim-centric approach, roping in NGOs and strict implementation of laws, are behind his success.
“We adopted a victim-centric approach which helped us secure the convictions of 85 traffickers during the last one and a half years. They were sentenced to four to 14 years in jail. This is a benchmark set by Andhra Pradesh. Nowhere in India was such a high conviction rate achieved,” Inspector General of Police Sattaru Umapathi, 57, told IANS in an exclusive interview.
The Hyderabad-based anti-human trafficking nodal officer of the state who led numerous operations across India to rescue victims of human trafficking was named in the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 released in Washington Monday.
Umapathi is the first Indian government official to get this honour for going beyond the state’s borders to rescue victims as per the anti-trafficking protocols of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
He was the first to take the initiative in 2005 when he was in the Andhra Pradesh Police Academy. He held a workshop to create awareness and train 5,000 officers in anti-trafficking.
“Treating a victim as a victim and not as an accused was the biggest attitudinal change brought about during the training. Earlier, we were filing chargesheets against the victims, making them accused,” he said.
“Judicial colloquium, public interactions were held and public prosecutors were also trained. We achieved a synergy. Everybody understood his role. Police, prosecution, judiciary, women and child welfare department and NGOs worked together,” he said.
“Implementation of stringent laws was another key measure. Since a minor can’t give her consent, we booked the accused for gang rape in addition to various sections of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act,” he said.
He said they took their exercise to other parts of the country, something which had never happened earlier.
“We started inter-state rescues under the UNODC protocols. The whole exercise was victim-centric and aimed at seeing that the trafficker was punished,” he said.
“We also developed nodal NGO concept. In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and other places, we took the help of local NGOs in raids and in conducting trials. The NGOs also helped us in segregation of victims from the accused, counselling the victims and in their rehabilitation,” he said.
“We conduct raids after talking to the victims. The victim is supported from raid to the trial and at the post-trial stage. The NGOs take care of the victim’s needs and court processes. Then there is government support. The women and child welfare department is paying Rs.10,000 towards interim relief for each victim after rescue,” explained the officer.
Since 2007, about 2,000 victims, including 200 minors, were rescued during raids in Andhra Pradesh and other parts in India. About 4,000 traffickers and other exploiters were arrested.
“I have been the nodal officer for anti-trafficking since May 2006. A long tenure is also important because if you start something and go back, others may not take it up that vigorously. But now the whole process is institutionalised. We officially have anti-human trafficking units. Whoever comes and sits here has to do it,” he said.
Umapathi is a professional trainer for Indian Police Service officers in India, having been trained in the leadership module by the Department for International Development in Britain in 2003. He also won the Indian police medal in 1996 and the president’s police medal for distinguished services in 2008.
As the annual report of the US state department placed India on its tier-2 watch list for the seventh consecutive year, the officer feels “for a big country like ours, more measures are required”.
“We have to perform a little better. It is a big nation and we are not able to come up to international standards,” he said.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at email@example.com)