Life lessons from a police officer who was once a child labourer

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Puthiyottil Vijayan | 45 IPS Officer, Kerala
Puthiyottil Vijayan | 45
IPS Officer, Kerala

When most kids his age were studying, Puthiyottil Vijayan, City Police Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram, was working at construction sites. Born in a poor family in Puthoormadom village in Kozhikode district of Kerala, he dropped out of school at the age of 12. “As a child, I didn’t enjoy school. Many of my friends were earning money working as construction labourers and I followed in their footsteps,” says Vijayan, a 1999 batch IPS officer. “There was nobody to guide me.”

His life would have been spent moving from one construction site to another had he not decided five years later to enrol for night classes to prepare for the Class X examinations. “One day, a friend challenged me, asking if I can pass the exam. I decided to take up the challenge,” recalls Vijayan. And then his life took a different course.

He passed the exam and continued with his studies. Supporting himself by setting up a soap-manufacturing unit under a government-sponsored self-employment scheme, he went on to do an MA and MPhil in Economics from Calicut University, and finally cracked the Civil Services examination in 1999 to join the IPS.

His own struggles to move up in life taught Vijayan the importance of education for children from poor families. He believes that it is possible for anyone to change his destiny if he has a goal and the will power to pursue it despite all odds. The journey of his life — from child labourer to IPS officer — proves that the will to rise above poverty can bring out the best in a person and be a powerful motivating tool to excel in whatever field one chooses.

The lessons he learnt from his own life inspired him to initiate several novel schemes for promoting education among poor children. He believes that juvenile crimes can be minimised by guiding underprivileged children on the right path through appropriate educational interventions.

Vijayan started the Nanma (Goodness) Project in Kochi when he was the city police commissioner there. The project assigns mentors to poor children and supports their educational expenses. It also conducts training camps for children and follows up on their performance in school examinations.

“I teamed up with like-minded people and business organisations to launch Nanma as a platform to provide help to needy children,” says Vijayan. “The project is now run from nine centres in Kerala and has 6,000 beneficiaries.”

Another of Vijayan’s initiatives — Our Responsibility to Children programme — was launched in Kozhikode and is now being implemented across Kerala. Supported by the state government, the programme involves parents, psychiatrists, parentteacher associations and the local police in monitoring poor children who run the risk of being lured by anti-social elements for criminal activities. Vulnerable children are identified and provided counselling and financial support to continue their education.

“When we arrested a few children in bike theft and burglary cases, I thought of setting up cameras around the schools to find out who were interacting with the school children. It was an eye-opener,” says Vijayan. Many anti-social elements were seen interacting with the children. Vijayan knew that if the children were sent to jail, they would come out as hardcore criminals. “But if we motivate them to do things that they like, we can ensure them a better future.” That is how he came up with the idea of setting up a platform to take up the challenge.

“The result was amazing. Most of the identified children started concentrating on their studies. I am thrilled when they tell me that they have scored above 90 percent marks,” says Vijayan. “After all, prevention of crime is also part of effective policing. When a police officer stops a child from turning into a hardcore criminal, the nation has to spend less on policing in the future and the child becomes an asset to the nation and not a liability.”

In 2010, Vijayan designed the Student Police Cadets programme for schools, a project to shape future leaders. Today, around 22,000 students are part of the programme in 247 schools across Kerala. “We have set up training modules for the ‘student cadets’ and are organising leadership camps for them. We monitor their behaviour and try to assess them individually,” he says. “The project enables children to explore and develop their inner capabilities. It helps the children to imbibe respect for law, discipline, civic sense, empathy for the underprivileged and resistance to social evils. Today, the cadets assist the police across Kerala in traffic management, tracking anti-social elements on the school premises and alerting the police in emergency situations such as communal violence.”

The programme has seen such phenomenal success in Kerala that the Central government is planning to extend it to Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

For Vijayan, these projects are a way of paying back his debt to society. “Had I not decided to continue my studies, I would have remained a labourer all my life. In a way, my underprivileged past helped me to develop my best qualities,” he says. “If I can change the life of even one child for the better, I am contributing to changing the world.”

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Bureau Chief, South

Jeemon Jacob has been a journalist for 26 years both in print and television, as of 2011. He was a Reuters Fellow and spent nine months in Oxford University as visiting scholar in 1994-95. He has headed the political bureau in New Delhi of the Rashtra Deepika group of publications and later joined News Express in Brunei Darussalam as Features Editor. He won the Statesman award for rural reporting in 1987 for his seven articles that exposed a brown sugar racket in Kumily, Kerala.

In 1990, he won the state award for best reporting and in 1992, his article on social alienation of people with HIV/AIDS won the prestigious PUCL Award for human rights reporting in 1992. Jeemon is a graduate in English Literature and Journalism and has exposed the corruption behind the DMK government’s allotting prime land to high court judges, senior civil servants, and the kith and kin of politicians under the government’s discretionary quota. He is based in Thiruvananthapuram.

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