Commenting on the lapses in investigating the disappearance of a five-year-old girl in east Delhi who was later found raped, mutilated and locked up in the neighbour’s room, the Delhi high court last week asked the police to keep a close watch on “people coming from nearby states as most of the crimes happening in the Capital are committed by them.”
The two accused came to Delhi from Bihar looking for jobs. They had no employment or domicile records in Delhi although police claimed that one of them, Manoj, a daily wager, had lived in the Capital for over ten years. He was once booked for trespassing and even served a jail term in Delhi.
Once out of prison, Manoj changed his addresses. Since his landlord did not get him verified, he dropped off the police radar. Secure in his anonymity, he travelled in and out of Delhi before committing another crime, this time a gruesome one, and slipping away to his village in Bihar.
Delhi Police and administration often hold “outsiders” responsible for much of Delhi’s crime. A number of politicians have also made similar claims only to withdraw their statements in haste after realising that they could not afford to profile their voters or offend any regional sentiment.
In an ancient city that has seen hundreds of invasions and influxes, it is difficult to tell who qualifies to be a Dilliwallah. The city had a population of four lakh in 1901. A decade on, people arrived from eastern and southern states with the British shifting base from Calcutta. The Punjabis and Sindhis followed from what is now Pakistan during the Partition, and migrants from UP and Bihar started joining them soon.
Unlike China, Indians don’t require a permit to work and live in cities. If found in, say, Shanghai without a “hukou”, even a native-born citizen is treated like an illegal immigrant, with restricted access to government services. But it is every Indian’s fundamental right to move anywhere in the country. Scores of people leave their villages, towns and even cities to reach Delhi in search of livelihood and a better life.
While the white-collar migrants are usually accounted for, it is the huge working class living in slums and unauthorised colonies of the city that often remain faceless. It is easy to view this underclass as a burden on or threat to the city but Delhi cannot survive without them. They are cheap labour working in our homes as maids, drivers and security guards, or pulling rickshaws and working at construction sites.
Shutting our eyes on them has served nobody’s interest. Any meaningful administrative engagement with this section of the population can work as a two-way traffic. They deserve access to basic government services which will improve their living conditions. In the process, they will also lose their anonymity and be accounted for.
It is not that we don’t have a system. Landlords can even be arrested for failing to get their tenants verified. But the police checks are initiated only around the national days when the city is on red alert. Also, there is no reason why contractors cannot be made to register the migrant labourers they employ. But the efficacy of such measures depends on the integrity of the police force. It is no secret how cops routinely harass even housemaids when they visit police stations for verification now mandatory to find work in many housing societies.
It’s also time Delhi police come clean on its priority. If they are serious about fighting crime, they should immediately intensify policing in areas that have been recording the maximum number of cases for decades. Or they can spell out their compulsions for devoting an oddly disproportionate bulk of police resources to VIP areas and middle-class neighbourhoods.