In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, you can meet India’s youngest police officers. Some not old enough to dress themselves. Text and images by Garima Jain
ANMOL SINGH RAJPUT says, “My uniform is too small for me because I have been working for three years in the SP’s office.” Anmol has been in khaki since he was five. For several decades, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh police regulations have allowed a family member, irrespective of age, to take the post of an officer who died in service. Look around the Superintendent of Police’s office in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and Anmol, 9, is only one of 15 children. Till they turn 14, these bal arakshaks have to report to the office though there isn’t a set schedule. On turning 14, they miss school to work three days a week — filing, sorting, xeroxing and filling water bottles.
Meeting these little policemen is a disturbing experience. Anmol’s father died of an illness while posted in Dantewada. “Whenever there is a fancy dress competition at school I always wear my uniform. The other kids tease me saying I hired it,” says Anmol. His mother doesn’t like him wearing the uniform (even though the Rs. 4,500 he earns pays some bills) because it reminds her of her husband. Anmol knows part of her anxiety stems from Dantewada where it was dangerous to be seen in uniform. But here in Raipur, he’s living out his cops-and-robbers fantasy. He says, “I am not scared. I want to catch thieves. You can recognise thieves easily. They wear scarves to cover their faces.”
How do these kids ever reconcile with their parents’ deaths? Is this double life an opportunity or a velvety curse? Is this childhood? Does it matter? Before these thoughts can surface, these children find their games undistinguishable from their reality. For them, life has begun in uniform, taking orders.