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By Suraj Ojha | Mumbai

She is no supermodel, but she is a role model for nearly 1,000 runaway children, who she has rescued and reunited with their parents

Rekha Mishra credits her freedom fighter grandfather for sensitising her towards caring for others. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Rekha Mishra, 34
Police sub-inspector, Dadar RPF

Even Gandhari, with her 100 Kauravas, didn't have as many children as Rekha Mishra does. The police sub-inspector with the Dadar Railway Protection Force (RPF) only got married last month, but considers herself mother to 953 children - all the runaway kids she has rescued and reunited with their families over the past two years. "I get a kick when I see their smiles while they are finally reunited with their families," says Mishra.

Family has always been a strong pillar for the cop, who hails from Kanjiya village in Allahabad. Her father, an army man, was away a lot during her early years, so it was her freedom fighter grandfather who brought her up. "One day, he was taking me home from school when he saw a tap left running. He immediately asked the auto driver to stop and told me to close the tap. Incidents like these taught me to care."

Keen to do her bit for society, Mishra joined the RPF in 2009, but it wasn't until six years later that she found her calling. After a couple of short stints as constable and then as clerk with the RPF, she rose to the rank of a PSI with the Mahila Shakti team, patrolling express and local trains. In 2015, she rescued her first child. "I was patrolling when I spotted an 11-year-old boy crying at CSMT [Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus]. When I asked him what was wrong, he seemed scared and did not respond. But I managed to gain his confidence and he gave me his father's number. His father came to pick him up, and revealed that the boy had run away after they scolded him for not studying."

Over the years, she has saved so many children, that she has found mention in Marathi textbooks and has also been felicitated by the President. But working with children is not all fun and games. "We get attached to these kids, as we spend a lot of time with them. We are overwhelmed when we find their parents, but we also miss them after they have left us," Mishra admits.

It was especially hard for her to let go of two girls she had rescued. "I really liked them. One of them was 12. Her father is a farmer in Vindhyachal. The villagers told her that she was beautiful, and could make it big in Bollywood. She wanted to give her parents a good life, so she ran away to Mumbai to become an actor."

The second girl was a 14-year-old from Kerala. She had completed Std XI, but her stepmother was not allowing her to study further. She would harass the girl and force her to do household chores. "In both cases, I managed to convince the girls that they were too young to survive alone in a big city like Mumbai," Rekha recalls.

What's her secret to getting kids to trust her? "Runaways never open up easily. But I treat them like my own children. With a mother's touch, I win their trust and get them to share their stories."

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