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Look back 2018: A year of shock and awe for Delhi

The cases made headlines across the country, and outside too, because it mirrored the city’s culture and the problems it was plagued by; it mirrored the entitlement a few believe they enjoy; exposed how there are families that fall off the radar, are neglected or left to drown in their own poverty.

delhi Updated: Dec 29, 2018 15:25 IST
Prawesh Lama
Prawesh Lama
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
burari case,burari,Delhi crimes
A view of 11 pipes protruding out of the house where 11 members of the Bhatia family allegedly committed suicide, at Burari in New Delhi(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Exactly in the middle of 2018 – on July 1 – Delhi woke up to a news report that it had never heard before.

Soon, it would unfold to be a story that no reporter had ever written about in decades. It would be an investigation — a first of its kind — that would test even the most experienced police investigators. A family of 11 had ended their lives. It was an occult practice gone wrong — one that met with a fatal end. The youngest person found hanging inside the house that day was only 15. The eldest was 77.

Three weeks later, there was another family that made headlines. Less than 10km from Delhi’s Connaught Place — the heart of the national Capital — three children had died. At first it seemed like a wonted case of three children dying due to dengue or another of the city’s infamous vector borne diseases that are rampant in the monsoon season. And then doctors saw the postmortem report — the three children had died due to starvation. There was not a morsel of food found in the stomach, bladder and rectum of the three children. The children had not eaten for more than a week.

Crime in Delhi this year was not about the 462 murders; 1,992 cases of rape or 2,219 people who complained about being robbed. It wasn’t about gang wars in Delhi’s urban villages or a shootout in broad daylight in south Delhi when four alleged gangsters were killed.

Crime this year was about stories buried behind the numbers — A family losing their rationality and taking their own lives, children dying of starvation, a man killing his own brother for a parking space, 17 migrants who had come to Delhi in search of work but were instead charred to death in an illegal factory and a former politician’s son brandishing a pistol outside a five-star hotel and threatening to kill another politician’s son because they had an argument. Each story made its own front page and prime time news.

The cases made headlines across the country, and outside too, because it mirrored the city’s culture and the problems it was plagued by; it mirrored the entitlement a few believe they enjoy; exposed how there are families that fall off the radar, are neglected or left to drown in their own poverty.

“The Burari mass suicide case is a rarest of rare case. A family losing rationality and following one member blindly, possibly their leader,”said Rajat Mitra, clinical psychologist, who has assisted Delhi Police for over a decade to understand crimes and criminals .

Mitra said the case of the three children, who died of starvation, reeked of the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society. “We haven’t eradicated the problem of poverty and hunger. There is a wide gap between opulence and deprivation. The two exists. We are still a land of extreme contrasts.”

A senior Delhi Police officer said the starvation deaths were a quintessential crime story. “The family had come to make a living in Delhi. They were poor migrants. The father’s cycle rickshaw was stolen twice within a week. Nobody bothered to find out how the source of his income was stolen. Had he not been ruined because of the thefts, he would have probably not fled home, abandoning his wife and three children. The three girls would not have died of starvation. In Delhi who cares about a cycle rickshaw theft? But for that man, the rickshaw was about losing a livelihood.”

And why would the cops care about a cycle rickshaw theft, when they have complaints of 115 cars and two-wheelers to look into every day. A total of 42644 vehicles had been reported stolen until December 7 this year.

On April 26, a quarrel over parking their nine cars and a history of property dispute between two brothers — Jaspal Singh and Gurjeet Singh — led to a clash outside their house in Model Town. Shots were fired, swords were drawn. On a Thursday night, the posh north Delhi colony watched in horror as the two brothers killed each other. Jaspal’s wife Prabhjot too died at a city hospital. Police said the two siblings had filed nine police cases against each other.

The case mirrored parking woes in Delhi where vehicular population has already breached the one-crore mark. According to Delhi government data, there are around 36 lakh households — which means at least three cars for each household. Every day the Delhi Police control room receives around 20 calls of fights and disputes over parking. “People have money, they have cars. But no space to park. Yet they buy more cars, because cars are a sign of wealth in Delhi,” a traffic police officer said.

Retired IPS officer Maxwell Pereirra, who worked in Delhi police for over three decades, said Delhi’s history too plays an important part in the crimes. “Delhi culture is such that the city has always been ravaged by rulers. History shows us people have always fought to take control of Delhi. Maybe this is the reason why there are cases of siblings fighting or killing each other,” Pereirra said.

Commenting on the case of a former Parliamentarian’s son, Ashish Pandey whipping out a pistol after a tiff — a video of the incident went viral on social media — the former top cop said this could be linked to Delhi’s culture. “There is a little more respect for law in south India as compared to the north,” he said.

The last two months of the year have been comparatively peaceful. But the year didn’t exactly start like this. Three weeks into 2018, a fire broke out at a firecracker warehouse killing 17 migrant workers. Two of the dead remain unidentified to date — their bodies charred beyond recognition. They used to earn ₹200 a day packing fire crackers. They lost their lives for ₹200.

Political scientist and retired JNU Professor Sudha Pai says, “Cases like this show how migrants, who come to big cities, are dealt with. It may be difficult, but there must be a policy for the welfare of migrants. People like those workers come to Delhi or other cities to earn a living. We should realize that Delhi runs because of migrants.”

First Published: Dec 29, 2018 15:25 IST