On my recent trip to India, I visited a police station. I had heard about Mohalla Committee and I wanted to find out more about it. The information I got was truly eye opening.
Mohalla Committee concept was a brainchild of police officer Mr. Khopade, who first-hand witnessed the Hindu Muslim riots in Bhivandi. He witnessed how rumors spread, how people with malicious self-interest took advantage of the situation, how the communities segregated and how it all evantually lead to complete breakdown of law and order.
And then he came up with an excellent idea. Mohalla Committee. A group of citizen closely working with cops on continuous basis.
This group meets regularly, every month or so. The main emphasis is on proactive activities to diffuse tension and keep communication. This helps reduce rumors spreading. This prevents people with vested interests from taking advantage of the situation. Since the establishment of Mohalla Committee, the Hindu Muslim tension in Bhivandi has reduced considerably.
Today Mohalla Committees exist all over Mumbai. These groups meet regularly with local police. They keep track of crime statistics. They keep track of local miscreants. They have a record of emergency services in the area, doctors, hospitals, ambulances. They organize joint petrols in the sensitive areas.
What I find most interesting is how a instution, Police in this case, has become more proactive, more connected, and as a result a lot more effective in solving the problems of the community.
Some time back, I was discussion object oriented programming with a friend of mine and we were talking about importance of Interfaces. He explained me how if the interfaces are not designed properly, evantually it results in the whole system becoming dysfunctional.
What we have here is an excellent example of rebuilding interface of an institution. The regular interface for interaction of police and citizen was police station. This interface was extremely insufficient and narrow. Problems like communal riots could never be effectively addressed by this interface.
So Mr. Khopade created a new interface, Mohalla Committee. With help of this inteface, police could spot potential flash points a lot earlier. They had people from community on their side and as a result they now had wide array of tactics available to them that was not available before. This resulted in vast improvement in effectiveness of an object called police station.
Perhaps it’s time for all of us to re-engineer our institutions like this. Take a dysfunctional system, brain storm over what’s the failure and come up with a new interface to address the shortcoming. The solution may require a social system like Mohalla Committee or it may require a technological solution like sending SMS warning of flooding.
So if the garbage in the area is not being picked up, form a mohalla committee with municipality officials, investigate what is the real problem, take continuous and proactive action to see to it that the problem is either solved or minimized enough to become tolerable.
In short term, it should be focused on problems. In long term it will lead to rethinking of institution, its purpose, its capabilities and resources and its realistic goals (not value based assesments of what should ideally happen).
To begin with we have to start assessing our real failures. We have to acknowledge that we have failed to create effective instutions at several places.
We must stop playing the blame game and understand that several best players can come together and can form a bad team. A team where the players strengths and weaknesses don’t complement each other. Instead coming together as a team undermines their strengths and amplifies their weaknesses. We are a team where individual Indian is not less intelligent than individual American or Chinese person. But one billion Indians, together as a country, still fall behind America or China. We need to stop improving the players and start improving the team.
Is a country of millions of software engineers upto this challenge of system redesign? For sure, Mr. Khopade has shown that it can be done.