Changemaker and visionary, senior IPS officer, P Vijayan brings CHIRI on the faces of distressed children in Kerala
In an exclusive interview with BW PoliceWorld, IGP ATS P Vijayan talks about the initiative ‘CHIRI’ that fetched him prestigious FICCI SMART Policing Award 2021
Photo Credit : Kerala Police, Kerala Police, Kerala Police, Kerala Police,
New Delhi, November 8
It is believed that if you can bring happiness in the life of just one person, you have brought happiness in your life! Thousands of children in Kerala who were struggling with anxiety and depression during the pandemic got a smile back on their face with the thoughtful approach of Kerala Police through their initiative CHIRI, a brainchild of IPS officer P Vijayan.
Senior IPS officer P Vijayan, IGP ATS, Director, Social Policing Division, Kerala Police and Chief Coordinator, Punyam Poonkavanam Project in Kerala took the onus of aiding the children in distress and helping more than 10,000 youngsters in distress in Kerala.
CHIRI means Smile in Malayam and P Vijayan’s consistent efforts ensured that every child in Kerala who seeks help from CHIRI helpline, smiles. The CHIRI project fetched Kerala Police, the prestigious FICCI SMART Policing Award 2021.
1) How have the children-oriented projects aided Kerala Police to bring down and or control crimes against children?
In a first of its kind, Kerala Police formed the Social Policing Division of which I am the first and current Director. This division serves as a nodal office for all the social intervention campaigns of the force.
Social Policing Division is a unique step taken up by the Kerala Police, in the sense the police are adding a new edge to its role as enforcer, namely that of the facilitator. This move has not diluted the focus of the force in initiating strict action against those committing crimes against children as well as children in conflict with law. It means that the cases involving children and those having children in contact with law are handled with much more sensibility and in a better informed manner.
This thought process started way back in 2006, when I was the City Police Commissioner of Kochi City and as part of the regular policing measures to fight the increasing instances of crime, I organised the residents associations there. A meeting of the representatives of residents associations were convened and along with that children from select schools in the city were also given a chance to interact with police personnel. The learning lesson from that meeting was the huge perception mismatch. Almost all the children had a negative impression about the police even though none of them had any direct bad experience with them.
Another instance was my interaction with a low income residential colony in the middle of the Kochi city, which was the feeding centre for the pool of criminals and anti-socials. During my interaction with residents of the colony, I realised that putting all active criminals behind bars would not solve the crisis, as new recruits were waiting. We have to bring these children to the mainstream society.
The genesis of Student Police Cadets and Janamaitri Suraksha, the much successful Community Policing initiative of Kerala Police, can be traced back to these two encounters with children.
This led to the development of a series of programmes focused on children. It worked in a two pronged manner. At one level, these programmes helped children from resource limited social backgrounds to find their potential and develop it to become positive contributors to the society. At another level, this helped the police in crime fighting as potential new recruits to the crime scene are now being positively engaged by the society. Some of the problem-focused solution-oriented initiatives by Kerala Police, some of which were mainstreamed by other Government departments are given below.
Our Responsibility to Children (ORC): Most juvenile offenders are victims themselves – of broken families, economic deprivation, lack of education, etc. Thrusting them into the conventional police system has a greater chance of hardening them into career criminals than reforming them. The ORC project focuses on identifying children at risk and in need of care and attention, intervening with tailored support, and integrating them into the mainstream by equipping and empowering them to become productive members of society. More than 12,000 teachers have been trained to follow a specially designed curriculum to enhance life skills, nurture strengths, address vulnerabilities, and promote mentoring and good parenting.
Project Hope: This programme was initiated by the Kerala Police and then made part of the activities of the Department of Women and Child Development. This project helps students who have failed in Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) and Plus Two examinations and could not make it to higher studies to prepare better and qualify. Around 2426 students passed out of in 2021-22.
Compassionate Communication in Police (CCIP): This unique attempt is part of the effort to update the State Police system in accordance with the changing societal scenario. Based on concepts of Core Community Policing and the Psychological First-Aid (PFA) designed by WHO, this programme is offered to police officers under training at the Kerala Police Academy. In the long run, this can be replicated across different State police units in the country.
Domestic Conflict Resolution Centre (DCRC) is a project initiated by the Social Policing Division of Kerala Police to mitigate the violence against women, children, and persons with disabilities within the households during the Covid and Post-Covid period in a non-policing manner. As the Covid-19 induced lockdown resulted in a surge in domestic violence, the State Police Chief introduced the innovative idea of DCRC on 5 May 2020. The DCRC has adopted the “Conciliation method” to intervene and resolve the conflict that happens in the families. The Covid-19 induced lockdown made the people stranded at their house have no places to go and start work from home. It has resulted in keeping the victims of domestic violence with the oppressor round the clock. As per the Kerala State Government’s official data, from 2021 till July, 2721 cases of domestic violence and eight dowry deaths were reported. When considering the last seven years data, it is evident that within the first seven months of 2021, there is a massive increase in domestic violence in the state. All these domestic violence issues are a direct threat to the well-being of children. They will be left without proper care and attention by their parents. It can create unnecessary tension among the children and develop many psycho-social issues. To address these issues, the State Police introduced the concept of DCRC. The idea intends to counter the occurrence and deal with domestic violence cases appropriately, and ensuring peace and justice.
District level DCRC is operated under the direct supervision of district police chiefs and take focused actions to promote peace and justice among vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the differently-abled. People can complain to the DCRC over the phone call, WhatsApp, email or directly Once the complaint is received through any of these mentioned ways, the official concerned responded to the issue and reach there within 2 hours. Two officials are required to visit the location where the violence took place. Once the officers reach the spot, they confirmed the information is authentic or not. If the issue happens in the house is serious in nature, it is notified under the jurisdictional police stations concerned.
A network of psycho-social care providers was created (38 Counsellors) at DCRC to deal with the registered Petitions. DCRC mostly health with family problems between husband and wife, intimate partner violence, violence against children, and violence against elders.
10,825 petitions have been received, and 10767 solved through DCRC (Data as of 30 November 2021).
2) Kerala Police has Children and Police Desk (CAP). Tell us more about it.
Children and Police (CAP) is a first of its kind initiative by Kerala police based on the realization that it is one of the fundamental duties of police is to create an invisible wall of protection around every child. CAP is a broad platform to strengthen the efficiency and reach of the initiatives mentioned above, so that abuse and violence against children are prevented and, their better protection and development are ensured. CAP facilitates constructive collaboration among police, various departments, governmental and non-governmental agencies working for the welfare of the children, general public and most importantly children. It recognizes the fact that problems faced by our children, most of the time not only go acknowledged, but are often unattended. Even if identified they are often unreported or unattended. In some cases they are attended very unscientifically, causing a damaging effect.
CAP House is envisioned as state level resource centre of Kerala Police, to further its commitment towards ensuring a conducive and nurturing environment for the children of Kerala by ensuring better implementation and coordination of its child related initiatives. It will facilitate an active interface between Kerala Police and the Women and Child Development Department for mutually strengthening each other interventions and initiatives. This note briefly describes the various facilities and activities of the CAP House.
CAP house functions as a call centre providing speedy information on various child related matters, with two distinct objectives for providing support to various functionaries of the CAP initiatives as well as general public.
For general public, the call centre provides necessary information on the various initiatives of CAP and ways and means to associate with them. The facility will also encourage reporting of grievances and offences against children as well as guidance on child related police matters such as registering FIR, reporting crimes and other matters.
The CAP operates as an umbrella body for all child-related initiatives of Kerala Police.
3) Please tell us about project CHIRI and how it aided the kids during crisis?
The pandemic-induced lockdown was really a testing time for all and its impact on children was beyond our wildest imagination. Depression and anxiety issues shot up before anyone could comprehend what happened. Nearly 66 children killed themselves between the start of lockdown and its end in June 2020. It was in this context that the Chief Minister of Kerala launched the CHIRI Helpline under the Children and Police (CAP) House. The objectives of CHIRI which in Malayalam means Smile, were (i) to develop a mental health support system for children in distress with the collective intervention of the relevant stakeholders, responsible for the care and protection of children, (ii) to identify and scientifically addressing the behavioural, emotional, interpersonal, learning and somatic challenges of children and (iii) to promote general well-being of all children.
Till October 2022, 34,588 calls were received through the dedicated CHIRI helpline number. Out of this 22,803 were enquiry calls, and 11785 were distress calls from the child or their parents. Mobile phone addiction (1424), Game addiction (1355), Mental stress (3977), Study problems (1006), Family problems (1931) and lack of smart phones to attend the online classes (859) were the major issues reported by the children.
The CHIRI programme has helped more than 10,000 youngsters in distress in Kerala. As a result of the project, a network of psycho-social caregivers has been established across the State to provide services to children in distress. This project was well received by the parents, teachers, students and general public for its uniqueness and effectiveness. Several success stories found their place in the visual and print media. Following the project’s successful initial run, UNICEF recognised the project’s value by partnering with the CAP House to strengthen the activities.
What makes CHIRI Helpline more unique is the elaborate operational design created to ensure absolute efficiency and prompt response to callers in distress. The flow of the operations at CHIRI Helpline is like this.
- Children experiencing psycho-social problems, atrocities or other forms of distress and their parents are encouraged to call the helpline and register their concerns.
- All calls to the CHIRI are handled and recorded at the state level.
- Specially trained female police officers respond to the calls, listening to the young callers and providing the necessary support and action.
- If the case is serious, the client's details will be handed over to a mental health professional who adequately addresses the problem.
- The mental health professional is expected to reach the client over the phone within 24 hours. After 24 hours, the officer will contact the client and inquire whether the service is provided to them or not. If not, the professional will be contacted again by the officer and make sure they are attending the case. Later, the client will be contacted by the officer to check with them on the status.
- A dedicated clinical psychologist is available at the CAP House to ensure quality services, and children can approach the service via phone call or face-to-face session.
- Calls with mild complaints are transferred to the CAP House Psychologist, who, after evaluation, transfers to the Additional District Nodal Officers (ADNO) of the SPC project in the respective district. ADNOs, upon the direction from CAP House Psychologist, transfer the call to elder mentors or peer mentors.
- Calls requesting financial support or assistance are transferred directly by the helpdesk to the ADNOs concerned to direct sponsors as and when available.
- The CHIRI system ensures each distress call is attended to and services are provided to the clients through this follow-up process.
- Reporting of CHIRI calls is being made to the Director, Social Policing Division, on a daily basis.
As part of the CHIRI Helpline, a network of qualified and trained mental health professionals is created and maintained. 37 Psychologists, 36 Counsellors, 24 Psychiatrists, 56 Elder mentors (SPC Teachers), 290 Peer mentors (SPC Senior Cadets/Passed out Cadets) are associated with CHIRI.
4) Kerala Police is one force that has more than 100 police stations inverted as child friendly police stations. Tell us more about it.
Child Friendly Police Stations is a unique response to the realisation that children are the change leaders for tomorrow and we need to inculcate concepts of responsible citizenship and ideals of civic sense in them right from the early age itself. Police, being one of the most visible and frequently engaged social agencies, can create a huge impression.
Child Friendly Police Stations work on a two-pronged mission. First, is to create a lasting impression in the young minds by opening up the space and services for children. Since children are easily impressionable, they pick up wrong signals from different media like films and literature. This need to be corrected. Secondly, there has to be a sensitisation in dealing with children in conflict with law. Majority of the crimes involving children, either committed against them or committed by them, go unreported and there had been instances where the investigations were done unscientifically and insensitively - thus causing more damage.
The objectives of Child Friendly Police Stations are to be (i) a Facilitator, (ii) an Enforcer, (iii) a Promoter, (iv) a Mentor and (v) function has a Knowledge Hub. The primary objectives of CFPSs are as follows:
- Ensure any abuse or atrocity against a child is investigated promptly, meticulously, and the offenders are brought before the law.
- To identify the children at risk early and ensure they are nurtured to become capable and responsible citizens.
- To sensitise the parents, teachers, and society at large about the rights of the children.
- To educate our children about their rights and their duties as responsible citizens of our country.
- To ensure no child is engaged in child labour or child beggary
- To develop our police stations as an abode of justice so that any child, parent or anyone with an issue related to children can confidently approach these stations for support.
- To make sure every CFPS will operate on an affection driven - partnership model by strengthening coordination between Government/Non-Government agencies responsible for the care and protection of children and civil society.
With our society evolving and moral standards upgraded, police is more of a partner in change leadership in the society than an enforcer of law. It can play a very vital role in hand holding children to become next change leaders by setting the right examples and role models for them to emulate.
Child Friendly Police Stations, a trendsetting initiative by Kerala Police, is all about creating this space where the force can engage children in multiple creative ways. This helps in converting the demographic bulge to demographic dividend by moulding future leaders and also preempting deviant behaviours in children and correcting them well in advance before they escalate to full blown instances of crime.
This scheme adopts a 360-degree approach to the core subject at hand, as it encompasses the psycho social angles in dealing with children, analyses the existing legal frameworks for progressing along this line and learning from inspiring success stories.
Currently, 141 police stations, which is 26% of Kerala’s total 541 police stations, have been upgraded to be child-friendly status.
5) The Kerala Police also runs project KOOTTU for children. How does that project benefit them?
Koottu (Companionship) is a joint venture that the CCSE (Counter Child Sexual Exploitation Centre) of Kerala Police took up with Bachpan Bachavo Andolan(BBA), to enable secure cyber space for children. It also brings under its wings Operation P-Hunt, the specialised drive against child pornography and Kids’ Gloves, an awareness programme.
The project put forward two levels of actions. At the first level, the project focuses on spreading awareness among the children, teachers and parents on the threats and challenges in cyberspace, by blending modern IT techniques, robotics etc. The second level is dedicated for rehabilitation of the children who are victims of the online crimes.
Operation P-Hunt revealed that many children are under the bad influence of internet and are being subjected to online exploitations.
Recognising the fact, Kerala Police and BBA teamed up together on the move to establish counselling Centres and legal aid posts for the victimised children in selected districts where P-Hunt Cases are highly reported. The service of the centres will be free of cost and the centre will equip the victims to tide over exploitation in all respects.
6) Could you tell us what are the steps Kerala Police is taking to control cybercrime against children as this was another reason many children face crisis?
Digital De-addiction (D-DAD) Centre is one of the most recent initiatives under the Social Policing Division. D-DAD Centres have been formed in eight districts of Kerala to address and resolve the issues faced by young people due to internet addiction.
D-DAD Centres primarily operate as the first contact point for issues faced by children, their parents and caretakers regarding addiction and abuse through digital means. It will be single-point contact for public for remedial steps on spread of digital addiction among children as well as a knowledge hub for all possible information available on the subject.
D-DAD is envisioned as dedicated centres equipped with cutting edge services to ensure psychological interventions to support children facing various behavioural and emotional issues resulting from unhealthy use of the internet. With the support of experts in the field, these centres will operate de-addiction services for children addicted to internet and online games. The focus will be on interactive education, device free retreats and scientifically supported diversion tactics. D-DAD will also give necessary professional advice to parents, teachers and other agencies dealing with children facing this problem.
D-DAD will be manned with a trained psychologist capable of providing internet de-addiction services to children and necessary guidance to their guardians. Child friendly toolkits will be developed by D-DAD to work with children, parents and teachers.
D-DAD will also carry out necessary research activities in the concerned area and produce documents based on the information being produced in the field. This will be instrumental in developing replicable interventions aimed at better care, safety and development of children and adolescents, especially in the new normal. The programme is rolled out as a collaborative initiative of other departments and agencies such as the departments of Education, Health, and Women & Child Development.
7) You are the founder and chief architect of the Student Police Cadet Project, a youth development initiative. Could you tell us more about it?
Student Police Cadet (SPC) programme was the result of the search for a training module that can craft a generation of informed citizens. This is a two-year programme for high school students to bring them closer to the law of the land and enhance the leadership potential in the children. The ultimate aim of the programme is to create an army of changemakers who will convert the demographic bulge that India has to a demographic dividend.
When it was launched, the fuel for those behind Student Police Cadet (SPC) Programme was the desire to create a generation of legally informed and socially responsible generation.
Realisation about the perception mismatch among children towards police triggered my curiosity as the City Police Commissioner of Kochi to start thinking along these lines in 2006. For the next two years, a lot of people thought and discussed about this idea and Student Police Cadet was tried out on a pilot basis in 2008.
By the time the Government of Kerala took up up in 2010 and launched in 127 schools, Student Police Cadet Programme had achieved a clear design and structure. But it did not stop at that. For the last 13 years, the programme has been reorganising, fine-tuning itself and reinventing to suit the emerging challenges of the contemporary times.
As Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the 13th SPC Day celebrations on August 2, 2022 at Kanakakkunnu Auditorium, Trivandrum, those associated with SPC can proudly look back at the major achievements completed till date.
When the whole world was shut down and remained lost when pandemic struck, SPC was one of the forces that stepped out and spread lights of positivity and explored possibilities of moving forward. It designed a bouquet of programmes to connect to children who are stranded during the pandemic and inspired them to stay positive.
Cadets lived up to the motto of the SPC project, which is “Learn to Serve”. This was manifested at its best during the Great Floods of 2018 and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The activities that Cadets took up during these periods were to engage, to support and to inspire. When the entire nation was locked down to fight the virus, Cadets supported the initiative by the Police to provide food for stranded public. Feed-A-Stomach programme created a new level of social intervention. Mind boggling one million food packets and one lakh food material kits were distributed among the homeless and migrant labourers.
Cadets came forward to create a databank of more than three lakh blood donors through Jeevadhara scheme to make up for shortage of quality blood in hospitals and blood banks. In another first, Cadets organised Kutti Desk, a peer-to-peer telephonic platform to engage and support children cut out from social contacts.
Through Saadaram, they celebrated the unsung heroes of the pandemic like ambulance drivers, cemetery workers, sanitation workers and Covid volunteers. When online classes became the norm, cadets took up the TV Challenge to organise donation of nearly 10,000 TV sets were distributed among poor families. More than 1,500 smart phones, more than 750 tablets and more than 450 DTH connects were also provided.
Finally, to inspire young people lost in the looming darkness of despair, Student Police Cadets organised online programmes like Pos Poss and Padavukal. In over 70 episodes, the Pos Poss Talks brought children in contact with celebrities and inspiring personalities from across the world and reached 10 million viewers online.
Another first of its kind was the Chiri Helpdesk, where trained senior cadets helped out children in distress Over 30000 calls were received. Nearly 5,000 children benefitted from this service till date.
With the State Government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan including SPC in its 100-day programme and allotted 197 schools, the total number of schools that have SPC Programme functioning became 1,000. Right now, 88,000 cadets are undergoing training and more than 250,000 cadets have completed training so far.
All these 1,000 schools and 20 Police Districts in Kerala will mark the 13th SPC Day with much fervour and candour. After its national roll out in 2018, the Student Police Cadets have spread its wing across India with programme implemented in 12,000 schools across India and nine lakh students undergoing training.
Another significant milestone achieved by SPC during its 13th Anniversary year is the completion of a well-researched Training Manual. Prepared over many hours of extensive research, in-depth analysis and studies and series of virtual and physical workshops, this manual captures the entire essence of Student Police Cadet Programme and converts into a replicable model anywhere in the world.
Tireless and extremely focused efforts spread over two years by a team comprising of a group of experts and teachers passionate about SPC are behind this Manual. The process was initiated by a team of ten people that included former World Bank official Dr. Geeta Gopal, author and senior Civil Service Officer Mr. Gulzar Natarajan IAS, renowned educationist Dr. K.E. Harish, experienced SPC teachers, and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Better Tomorrow Mr. Saif Mohammed.
Workshops organised through the participation of the said team prepared the basic structure of the manual. Following this, the foundation of character formation of individual cadet was divided into seven dimensions, namely (i) Physical, (ii) Emotional, (iii) Ethical, (iv) Thinking, (v) Enterprise, (vi) Societal and (vii) Environmental on the basis of continues research process incorporating the latest learnings from around the globe. A SPC Learning Framework was the drafted to depict the changes that should happen to a cadet passing through SPC training module defined by these dimensions and also positive changes expected out of cadets as Change Leaders in the society.
Once it has realised its own true potential, there is no looking back for Student Police Cadets. The new and updated manual is a shot in the arm for them to issue forth and conquer the world.
What started off as an attempt to convert the demographic advantage of India to a demographic dividend has now become a model project for youth empowerment and exploration of their inherent potential?
8) As the Special Officer for Sabarimala, you started Punyam Poonkavanam (The Holy Garden) interlinking spirituality and ecological responsibility. It drew tremendous appreciation from PM Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ in 2018. Could you tell us more about it?
Punyam Poonkavanam is a new concept of eco-sensitive community policing initiative. It was launched by the Kerala Police as part of special policing plan at Sabarimala, one of the most frequented pilgrimage destinations in India and soon it evolved as a mass movement with active participation from government and non-government agencies as well as voluntary organisation to promote conscious and responsible pilgrimage.
Nestled in the heart of the pristine forests of the Periyar Tiger Reserve and at a height of 4,133 feet above sea level, Sabarimala tests human endurance and spirituality like no other pilgrimage centre. That makes Sabarimala unique.
Over the years, millions of pilgrims trekking the forest track to reach the temple have left behind tonnes of garbage, way too much than what the forest or inmates of the forest can handle. There were many who got worried about the degradation of quality of life in Sabarimala.
Every pilgrimage season left heaps of plastic waste, animals killed after eating sugar-laced plastic, river polluted by oil and soaps and devotees and personnel on duty developing respiratory ailments due to pollution and desperate measures like using chlorine like disinfectants to mitigate the impact of people urinating and defecating in the open. The biodegradable waste rotting in open made Sabarimala breeding centre for contagious diseases and swarming flies. River Pampa often got choked with used and abandoned clothes. The Sabarimala Sudhi Sena (better known as SSS), engaged by the District Administration of Pathanamthitta, was doing exceptional work, but that was not enough. The more garbage they removed, the more kept flowing in.
Every Mandalam Makaravilakku season, spread over two months, left behind a lot of dead animals, degraded Nature and heavily polluted Pampa. Sabarimala temple is house number one in the ninth ward of Ranni-Perunnad village panchayat, which has a total population of 20,561 and 5,586 houses. The region is also home to Attathod Tribal colony and groups of Malampandarams, nomadic tribal groups. They all suffered during the Mandalam season, year after year. River Pampa is a lifeline for millions downstream and they all suffered. The mighty river, known as Dakshina Bagheerathi or Kerala’s Ganga, was being critically infected.
Then, 2011 happened. The year witnessed some developments, which had no direct connection to Sabarimala pilgrimage but were destined to change the face of it. The Kerala Police Act was passed and empowered police to punish those who endanger public safety. The Honourable High Court of Kerala issued an order against dumping garbage in public places and directed Kerala Police to prosecute those who violate this. But in Sabarimala, enforcement of this order through conventional policing was not practical. And then, Punyam Poonkavanam Project was launched.
Punyam Poonkavanam is the result of people from different walks of life coming together to find a lasting solution to this issue and revert Sabarimala to its pristine glory. For this, those associated with Punyam Poonkavanam went to the basic principles of Sabarimala.
The Core Principle of Sabarimala Pilgrimage is that what you are searching outside is inside you. This is one of the rare and true manifestations of the ‘Tatvamasi’ concept of Indian wisdom. This means “You are That”. In Sabarimala, the pilgrim is refined through a stipulated period of extreme penance to be the God himself.
And the base for implementing the ‘Tatvamasi’ concept is another gem of Indian philosophy - the Advaitha. At their roots, both these great philosophies advocate the unity of spirit and body, the unity of time and space, the unity of being and nothingness.
It gave the insight that Punyam Poonkavanam was looking for. The humungous issue of garbage management has to start from within. No outside agency cannot help Sabarimala beyond a limit. Sabarimala needed action from those who are part of Sabarimala. If someone had to act, it was us. There are no others.
The focus was to integrate the concept of cleanliness into the ecosystem of the pilgrimage. This, again, has to start from inside. The police and other department personnel on duty at Sabarimala were engaged in cleaning activities every day from 9 am to 10 am.
The exceptional work and support by Rapid Action Force (RAF) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) of CRPF, Travancore Devaswom Board, Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam (SASS), Erumeli Juma Masjid and Akhila Bharata Ayyappa Seva Sangham (ABASS) got an unprecedented boost. Other uniformed and non-uniformed agencies like Fire and Rescue Services, Departments of Excise, Health and Public Works, also provided all-out support to this. Sight of uniformed and non-uniformed government officials voluntarily joining in the cleaning work along with the sanitation workers, without any airs of officialdom brought in slight, but definite changes in the mindset of pilgrims. Slowly, they too joined these officials in picking up the waste and gathering them at designated points for safe removal.
Initially, the region from Sannidhanam to Marakkootam was divided into 13 sectors and work was assigned to specific groups drawn from departments of Health, Forest, Excise as well as Travancore Devaswom Board, Dhanalakshmi Bank.
Over the last several years, Punyam Poonkavanam has become an integral part of the regular police bandobast (preparatory) scheme at Sabarimala. Police officers in different ranks were deployed in adequate numbers at Nilakkal, Pamba, Erumeli and Sannidhananm to oversee the effective implementation of Punyam Poonkavanam. The seamless support and inspiration from State Police Chiefs have been another key ingredient in the success of the programme.
Soon, the concept of cleanliness got woven into the pilgrimage. Those trekking Sabarimala believed in their heart that cleanliness is the true path to godliness.
At this point, Punyam Poonkavanam opened a spiritual path to the core of Conscious and Responsible Pilgrimage through Saptha Karmas or Seven Sacred Deeds, which ensured the objectives of Punyam Poonkavanam are met.
Punyam Poonkavanam has been fortunate to get the support of the Honourable High Court of Kerala right from the beginning. The venerable court has been tracking the progress of the project and issued as much as 11 judgements that gave impetus for various aspects related to the implementation.
PM Narendra Modi, in his monthly Mann ki Baat on December 31, 2018, profusely appreciated the Punyam Poonkavanam initiative and exhorted others to learn from its success.
Punyam Poonkavanam is the only project to be included from Kerala in the Swachh Bharat Mission E-Learning Programme (Course Number 501 and 502: Waste Management in Religious Town: Case of Sabarimala – Part 1 & 2)
Prominent socio-cultural icons of our nation chipped in their support through endorsements and active participation. Actors Vivek Oberoi, Suman; doyen of Kannada film industry late S. Sivaram (writer, filmmaker, actor and producer); musicians Yesudas, Veeramani Raju, Sivamani and P. Jayachandran were among the few who gave whole-hearted support to the project in public. Governor of Kerala Arif Mohammed Khan; Minister for Devaswom K. Radhakrishnan and his predecessors; Tamil Nadu Minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) P.K. Sekar Babu, State Police Chief Anil Kant and those before him Supreme Court judge Justice C.T. Ravikumar, High Court judges Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice Gopinath Menon; Travancore Devaswom Board president Adv. Anantha Gopan and his predecessors; eminent jurists, senior bureaucrats, police officers and politicians have been supporting this unique initiative since its beginning.
Over the years, Punyam Poonkavanam project kept on evolving. It broke the barriers of language, politics, religion, region and unified people from different walks of life for a single cause of conscious and responsible pilgrimage in unison with Nature.
As a continuation of the work at Sannidhanam and Pampa, Erumeli region took up Punyam Poonkavanam in full earnest. This time, all stakeholders came under one umbrella. The Erumeli Juma Masjid, Panchayat, schools and colleges in the region, Churches and all political parties worked with one goal. Punyam Poonkavanam became a true mass movement at this point. Not just the region was cleaned up, flower gardens were put up and preservation and restoration of Manimala River was done.
The word was spreading fast. After the Great Floods of 2018, Nilakkal was made base camp. Punyam Poonkavanam did concerted and focussed work there to influence the bus drivers and staff not to dump garbage, especially plastic waste. Extensive campaigns were done in vehicles arriving and leaving Nilakkal. A beautiful flower garden came up at Nilakkal Mahadeva Temple. Same happened in Thoottooty Mor Gregorian Retreat Centre.
In the meantime, exhaustive list of Guruswamys, the leaders of the pilgrim groups coming to Sabarimala, was prepared and awareness campaigns were launched. Process is under way to create at least 1,000 volunteers from every district in all the South Indian States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telegana and Pondicherry. This was done out of the conviction that Punyam Poonkavanam must not just make pilgrims aware about their role in nourishing Sabarimala’s rich life, but this should start from the beginning of the pilgrimage.
Results speak for themselves. Punyam Poonkavanam and combined efforts of various agencies turned around the situation at Sabarimala for better. In the recent years, devotees certify that Sabarimala and Pampa have been much cleaner than on regular Mandalam season. Personnel from Department of Health and Power, who will be on duty here even on non-peak pilgrimage season, vouch than the quality of air and water has increased significantly. Officials of the Public Works Department used to complain that food could not kept open due to swarming flies. This is no longer the condition. Forest official testify that unnatural deaths among animals dropped noticeably.
While campaign was on its peak, Honourable High Court issued an order for complete ban of plastic in Sabarimala project area.
A Poonkavanam Irumudi (a special variant of the bag that Sabarimala pilgrims carry) was introduced by Punyam Poonkavanam to bring down the flow of plastic to the region. Along with that the innovative idea of orumudi sanchi was introduced, which is a cloth carry bag to take back all the garbage created by a pilgrim during the journey and to be processed safely once he is back home. Punyam Poonkavanam also started the practice of giving away tree saplings as vruksha prasadam for Ayyappas to take it back home and nurture it as part of offering themselves to the cause of Lord Ayyappa and Nature.
All temples under the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department of Tamil Nadu Government are in the process of being converted to Punyam Poonkavanam Kendras. More than 1,200 temples under the Malabar Devaswom are now Punyam Poonkavanam Kendras. Temples coming under Cochin Devaswom are in the process of converting themselves as Punyam Poonkavanam Kendras propagating messages of personal hygiene and living in communion with Nature. Several temples in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are following the suit.
P Vijayan has been a visionary who is giving a new name to policing with impactful work in Kerala Police setting an example for many young IPS officers to learn.
He is a recipient of the prestigious Indian Police Medal for meritorious service and fellowships from International Universities for his outstanding contribution to Policing and numerous social initiatives.
As a man who has touched millions of lives and transformed them through his various initiatives, he has become one of the extraordinary changemakers of our times. A changemaker who relies on the inner human potential to solve problems and create a better tomorrow for everyone
Born in Kozhikode of Kerala, Vijayan even got into construction work as a laborer at a very young age, putting his studies at stake. To support his family and continue his studies, he had to work at a soap factory and take tuition classes.
He completed his MA in Economics and got qualified for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). His career reached its high point when he joined IPS in the year 1999. An exemplar of his philosophy of 'latent capabilities exploration', Vijayan IPS presents a sterling model for our youth to emulate.
As the first IPS officer to serve as Commissioner of all 4 Commissioneratesof Kerala, he has led the investigation teams in many sensational cases, including the Kalamassery Bus Burning, Shabarimal, Chelembra Bank Robbery and also e-mail threat against the Prime Minister.
He has addressed crime through effective, unbiased investigation and his administrative capability was well received by the highest echelons of the government wherein he innovated policing strategies and revamped police training.
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