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Reaching out through research

"Research is a good tool for an organisation to improve its work environment", says Mangai Natarajan, a social scientist, who conducted a workshop in the city recently.

HER BRIGHT smile reflects her confidence and optimism. Mangai Natarajan, a Ph.D in Criminal Justice, who is now an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York, was the first woman to register for a Ph.D in Criminology at the Madras University. She is also advisor to the Prevention of Crime and Victim Care (PCVC).

PCVC is a non-profit organisation, with the mission to ensure that the world is a better place for the existing and future generations. It was started in 2001 by Prasanna Poornachandra and her colleagues Usha Rani and Hema Nair, who assist in various projects undertaken by the organisation in "building safer communities worldwide''. One of PCVC's projects is to assist the police, the victims and do counselling for them. They handle cases of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, parametrical abuse, etc. The organisation also helps women police with their gender sensitisation programme, counselling victims etc.

Mangai, who was in the city recently to conduct a workshop, reminisces, "When I left Chennai 12 years back, I had many challenges to face. I belonged to an ethnic minority, was a newcomer and inexperienced in many ways. But, over there, if your work is good and genuine, you get a lot of recognition, encouragement and motivation. But, my roots are here. I want to do something for my country, Tamil Nadu, especially. As the advisor to PCVC, I'd like to extend as much help as possible as well as have regular contact with the women's police wing of Tamil Nadu."

Tamil Nadu is the only place, perhaps in the whole world, where 58 units of women police are operating. Mangai did a comparative analysis of the roles played in law enforcement in India and the U.S. "The women police here are doing a good job, only they are not encouraged enough. "

Her research in the U.S. was mainly on drug abuse. "I did a thorough study on drug trafficking, drug users, dealers etc. It is very difficult to locate them. They function in groups — ethnics, corporate, freelancers and so on. It is interesting to note that there are the lower level drug dealers who always get caught and the higher ones who don't. I studied more than 300 cases, the results of which were compared to the investigations done by the police and the Law Enforcement Board. They matched. Researches are important. They give the right feedback to your work. Our country lacks that. Here, for instance, the women police do a lot of work. But there is absolutely no research being done. As a result, there is no scope for improvement or motivation. "

Talking about the Tamil Nadu women police, Mangai says, "The first unit of women's police was formed in 1993 in the Thousand Lights area. There was a lot of cribbing from the women police themselves. They felt they were being segregated. But soon things changed. Instead of merely assisting the men, they now handled cases directly. They worked as women chiefs and subordinates. Soon they started acquiring the policing skills. They were now `police women' and not `women as police' on par with their male counterparts, who slowly started dissenting. Later, six more units were formed including Coimbatore, Madurai and Chennai."

She adds, "The change in attitude was visible. They felt proud of their work. They were more involved, organised and supportive of each other. The workload also increased. With experience, their confidence improved. Sometimes, cultural barriers prevented them from handling some cases. Also, they found it difficult to solve many cases, as they were not trained in counselling. That's where PCVC provides assistance now."

The clients are mostly women. It is interesting to note that women in the districts approach the police whereas in the city it is minimal. In four years time, the police stations started getting overloaded with cases.

The Police wing has a para-military structure with a tough training programme. In 1997, the new batch arrived, freshly trained, on par with men in every way. Now there are two groups — seniors (before 1997) and juniors (after 1997), who are well prepared to handle any type of case, explains Mangai.

"Besides", she continues, "there is a rise in the number of recruits. We have the gender sensitisation programme. They are working on methods suited for women. Often, women in the battalion are unhappy because of the language used by the trainers. The training programme also is very strenuous. But they can look forward to promotions and better acceptance later. It's a definite attitudinal shift. Tamil Nadu shows the success story for the entire world. Only the research area is weak."

"In the U.S., changes and modifications in the legal system happen as soon as new trends or changes emerge in society. For women, petitions have to be linked to dowry. It could be premarital sex, domestic violence, alcohol-related abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, etc. Also, the women police require training in solving and finding a solution for the victims and PCVC provides that. Women's organisations usually do not support the women police — ours is a submissive society, very traditional. But in the U.S., it is independent and individualistic. What I like here is that we are people-oriented and family-oriented. That's a very strong point, both psychologically and sociologically. We are supportive of each other.

Mangai Natarajan recently conducted a workshop on "Designing a Research Project''. It was organised by the research and development division of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC).

Attended mainly by students of the psychology and criminology departments of the Madras University, the focus was on research design, methods of data collection, analytical techniques and an overview of software, used both in qualitative and quantitative research.

The workshop provided guidelines to build a concept from the stage of its creation as an idea to developing into a full-fledged research. It also included recording, managing and analysing data, planning time and resources, defending the value and logic of qualitative and quantitative research.

The lec-dem and presentation were highly motivating, interesting and useful for young students. In Mangai's words, "I learnt everything the hard way. For every data collection and other work, I had to write a programme and then use it on the computer. Now the software is available. It's just a question of interest. Everybody should do something good for society. The researches should benefit society.''

PCVC can be contacted at 5279085, Fax: 5230951 or e-mail: Mangai Natarajan can be reached at 4661443.


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