“Operation Smile” traumatic experience for abducted children

Earlier in August, Bangalore police, led by ACP P. Harishekharan conducted “Operation Smile,” a campaign that was lauded by the press and media as a “heroic” and “noble” effort by to prevent children from being forced into a life of begging. In reality, it was a traumatic experience for the hundreds of children who were summarily abducted from the streets of Bangalore and placed in abusive, ill-maintained state homes where the nightmare  began for  for their parents, who had to jump through bureaucratic hoops to simply have their children return home.

The majority of the children were from minority and marginalized communities- Muslim children, Dalit children, children whose parents lived in slums, migrant children whose parents work as day laborers, etc.- i.e, children who bore very specific class and caste markers. It can only be assumed that given the absence of any investigation and adherence to protocol in this operation, the main factor in the abductions was aesthetic – the crime of “looking poor” appears to be the main criteria considered in these cases.it was apparent that no proper investigation was conducted prior to abduction these children and no effort was made either to rehabilitate them or to ensure that further trauma would not be inflicted. This casts a doubt on even the stated intention of the operation;any plan that truly intended to be for the well-being of children would not have been conducted with such blatant disregard and disrespect.

Bangalore’s campaign has made Karnataka the tenth state in the country to have conducted an “Operation Smile”. The first such operation with this name occurred in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh and its “success” prompted a letter from the then Home Secretary Anil Goswamy to encourage the rest of the country to follow suit. Massive systemic change is needed to even begin to address the issues of marginalization that have been the result of capitalism, classism, and casteism. Measures in the meantime to alleviate some of the effects are necessary; however, operations such as these cannot possibly even serve that purpose. The very fact that these proceedings occur as if they are criminal proceedings and that many of these state homes for children function effectively as prisons points speaks to the failure of this method of addressing extreme poverty and other factors that push people into begging.

The careless way in which this operation was conducted, the fact that the majority of the children are from already severely marginalized communities, and the abuse and trauma that was inflicted on them shows a total disregard for the humanity and rights of these children. All of this was packaged under the cynical and Orwellian- sounding name of “Operation Smile.” The irony and the disconnect are nothing but nauseating and exceedingly obvious in comparisons of the firsthand accounts from the families of those abducted and the fawning and obsequious media articles about the success of this operation.

By Chandana Cherukupalli , volunteer at ALF