Mumbai: How Sakinaka police station built a culture of trust to birth a fan club
The story of how officers of Sakinaka police station turned public will in their favour after the 2015 rape accusation almost brought an angry mob to their gates in Chandivli
Against a backdrop of a cluster of buildings in not-so-good shape in the police residential quarters, the Sakinaka police station stands tall in the heart of Chandivli. But, it is not just for the year-old murals of Bollywood villains by Chal Rang De artists that smarten up its walls. It is because of the hospitable officers it houses.
It's not unusual here for a constable to juggle work with carrying a tray of chai and water, to comfort complainants, most of whom belong to the neighbourhood's slums. Among them is 55-year-old Juhi Pradhan, who in January was evicted from her home by her eldest son, Manoj. "My husband Kishore was beaten up by him.
Barkat Ali Shah with his daughter Shireen Fateema a year after the kidnapping incident. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
We had no place to go. We had bought a home each for our two sons, but the elder one wanted to also usurp the flat where my husband and I live." Pradhan visited the police station to lodge a complaint with police sub-inspector (PSI) Prashant Hule. Hule called Manoj, and warned him of action, amounting to jail, if he didn't hand-over the property back to his parents. Pradhan says Manoj hasn't troubled the couple since. She is here, today, to let Hule know that everything is fine.
Yet, if Pradhan is walking into the police station of her own volition, it's the result of a well-planned strategy by the Sakinaka police of making the station a hospitable refuge for the troubled. This success has come after three years of work.
ACP Avinash Dharmadhikari handles Dongri and JJ jurisdictions. File Pic
In 2015, these very cops had become social pariahs after a model accused two officers - Assistant Police Inspector (API) Sunil Khatpe and API Suresh Suryavanshi - along with three others, of raping her at an Oshiwara hotel. The case, still being heard at the sessions court, created a crisis of faith among the locals.
Sameer Shaikh, 32, a purchase manager who lives in Jarimari, says, "We could not trust them [the local police]. Some people were so angry that they wanted to torch the police station." In the troubled period that lasted three months, officers were reluctant to step out in their uniforms, fearing an angry mob.
Change of season
"I was transferred to the station in June 2016, right after the incident, and noticed that the people didn't trust us anymore. They didn't want to report crimes to us, and approached politicians for help. The officers, too, were low on confidence. There was an urgent need to communicate our good intentions to the locals," says ACP Avinash Dharmadhikari, who in June 2018 was posted in Dongri.
The 53-year-old is credited with turning the tide in favour of the local police in a span of two years when he was posted there as Senior PI. He says his first move was to start hosting cultural and social programmes on the grounds of the police station. "The area has over 60 mosques, 51 temples, six churches, a few Jain temples and gurudwaras; people from all religions stay within the jurisdiction.
We hosted iftaar parties, celebrated Diwali, Holi and Ganesh Chaturthi. Our cultural programmes were used as awareness drives aimed at countering common crimes and improving the connection with the locals." Sakinaka, says Dharmadhikari, has the jurisdiction of nine wards. The population of nearly seven lakh people includes residents from across social strata. But, it's the area's large floating population, that's largely responsible for creating problems. The need for trust came, he says, because locals preferred approaching local MLAs to get cases registered, instead of heading directly to the cops. "But during my term, their [political] interference became almost nil," he adds.
Dhamadhikari would often pitch in to help even when it wasn't a matter of law and order. Right To Information (RTI) activist and Sakinaka resident Anil Galgali says that in 2017, Madhavi Gonbare wanted to enter a Chess-Boxing Amateur World Championship in Kolkata, but fell short of R30,000 for the participation fee. Hearing of her plight through a friend, Dharmadhikari activated his network and helped raise the required money. Since then, Gonbare, whose father died in a road accident when she was in Class X and whose mother works as a school peon, has won over a dozen national-level medals.
With speed and commitment
Social outreach helped bring in the goodwill, but what helped seal the deal was the efficiency with which the cops worked on cases. Among the more grateful ones is Barkat Ali Shah, 34, who runs Sheefa Sweets bakery on Tilak Nagar Road. On February 22, 2018, his daughter Shireen Fateema was kidnapped while playing outside his shop. When he noticed her gone, he checked the CCTV footage, which revealed the face of the man who had kidnapped her.
"I immediately alerted Dharmadhikari sir and he launched a hunt. The kidnapper, Shashikant Parab, had realised that the locals in Kurla had received the message about the missing child. Scared, he abandoned her in an auto. A passerby who found her, immediately alerted Kurla police, who then informed Dharmadhikari. She disappeared at 5.30 pm, and the cops managed to find her unhurt around 10.30 pm. I can't thank them enough."
The work of the Sakinaka police has, in fact, inspired Galgali and advertising professional Zubair Khan to create a 13-minute video that sees residents thanking the police on various cases solved in the last one year.
This film was shown to the police at an event held at Eden School and College grounds on March 2, organised by Panchsheel Mahila Mandal and Dashrat Madukunta Pratishthan.
Khan, who shot the film on his mobile phone, says, "The film was received well by the nearly 700 residents who attended the event, and helped raise awareness about the need to report crime."
Galgali even wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis about it. The CM, in a letter, replied: It is important that the public and the police work together to maintain harmony in the society. I congratulate both, the police and the organisation, for their efforts.
This is not the first time that the Sakinaka cops have made it to YouTube. In May 2018, Galgali and Khan made a 45-minute documentary on Dharmadhikari's vision and work. During his tenure, Dharmadhikari claims, the station solved 90 per cent of serious offences including dacoity, murder, attempt to murder, rape, molestation and theft. Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Milind Khetle, attached to Sakinaka police station since 2018, says, "There was a time when cases not heard by our team would directly go to the DCP. He would call four to five times a day to know the progress. But after a point, the calls stopped, since all cases were handled at our level."
When Dharmadhikari was transferred to Dongri and JJ jurisdictions after his three-year term in Sakinaka, residents held farewell functions that were spread over a month. It was during these felicitations that the documentary was released.
Success takes work
Sakinaka hasn't lost its mojo after his departure. Senior PI Kishore Sawant, who now holds the fort, juggles phone calls while discussing a murder case. To us, he says, "I have encouraged everyone to talk to me directly to report an offence. I have even asked all duty officers to have conversations with the residents." Pointing at an LED screen installed inside his room, Sawant adds, "We have cameras on the premises.
If I see a visitor, especially a woman, waiting for over 10 minutes, I ensure someone attends to her. My team, too, makes it a point to ask people inside the police station if they are okay." It's not just talk, Sawant says if the FIRs are going to take a while and the complainant hasn't eaten, "we always order food for them". "This is not to prove that we are doing our job differently. It's just that the Sakinaka police had to face challenges to win back the public's trust."
The locals attest to the dedication of the team. In the case of a 10-year-old who was murdered by a teenager last December, the cops, says the deceased's uncle Akbar Khan, launched a hunt when the child was reported missing. "None of the officers had a normal meal for two days till we tracked down the accused. We lost our boy, but we can't forget the efforts the cops put in." Sawant says the number of case registrations have increased. "We encourage people to file a case no matter how small the crime. Earlier, only NCs were filed. Now, we advise that FIRs are filed and criminals are taken to court," he adds.
How Dharmadhikari Turned The Tide
* Hosted festival celebrations inside police grounds to build communal harmony, connect with the locals
* Focussed on little goodwill gestures - helping locals raise funds for athlete Madhavi Gonbare; got cake for complainant when they realised it was his birthday
* Quick response to crimes, solved one kidnapping case in five hours
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