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It could happen to you

Aarushi Talwar and Neeraj Grover were People Like us, who became victims of living in a society bred on consumerism and intense frustration. Life in the metro can be lethal — for any of us, report Pallavi Polanki & Shalini Singh.

india Updated: Jul 06, 2008 09:45 IST

A work of embroidery art by Aarushi Talwar, say patients of dentist Rajesh Talwar, hangs in his room. It is a curious detail about a father who is in custody for allegedly murdering his daughter. The cold-blooded nature of the double-murder in Noida involving 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and her family’s domestic help Hemraj remains a mystery. Equally shocking is the Neeraj Grover murder in Mumbai. What led a young naval officer with a bright future to turn murderous overnight? Why did a young, beautiful actress turn his partner in crime by helping him get rid of the body?

Films with similar plots are unlikely to make it past the censor board as works of fiction. But every morning, realities of urban India are up for mass consumption in black and white and in technicolour 24/7.

What is making such crimes possible in our societies today? What is going on behind urban India’s glitzy lifestyles and designer labels? According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s latest figures, crime rate increased nearly 18 times in 2006 in cities against the national level figure. At 302.5 per cent, the average rate of crime in urban agglomeration centers was much higher than the national crime rate of 167.7 per cent. The report states that megacities (cities with population of over 10 lakh) are facing increased criminal activities on account of peculiar problems such as diverse socio-cultural disparities, uneven distribution of income and unchecked migration.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who wants to make a film on the Neeraj Grover murder case, made a telling observation when he said, “We will try to explore the collapse of the family and value system through our film.” He hit the nail on its head. For these crimes, though extreme, are a reflection of the social transformations that are taking place today.

What’s common to both crimes in question, according to Mumbai-based psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, is their location. Noida in NCR and Lokhandwala in Mumbai — both upcoming suburbs in the respective cities, inhabited mostly by the nouveau riche — a distinctive reflection of our prevailing lifestyle. Demanding jobs, aspirational ‘values’, obvious time crunch, stress of everyday living… “There is this constant need nowadays to perform, be different and more successful than others. When your whole psychological process is getting altered, it’s but natural to expect this,” says Amitabh Saha, consultant psychiatrist with the Holy Family hospital in Delhi.

So what leads perfectly ‘normal, educated people’ to commit such violent acts? Explains Mridula Apte, a Delhi-based clinical psychologist, “These are people who may otherwise be intelligent, well functioning in other spheres, good conversationalists and above suspicion. But they can be very impulsive. Their ego-structure is problematic. There is definitely a personality disorder that is common to these crimes.”

Couple this with the collapse of the Great Indian Parivaar. “In the last 10-15 years, especially in the metros, the traditional support systems have disappeared. Earlier, there were social control mechanisms within the family that intervened before you gave vent to your emotions. Now, we have nuclear families, which are essentially insulated set ups. The boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ have become strong,” says sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed.

Someone who is constantly observing the new generation, principal of Springdales School, Pusa Road, Ameeta Mulla Wattal, says these crimes are certainly a judgment on our times. “What’s the point of picture postcard lifestyles if there is rot within? At what cost are we aspiring for success?” she asks.

Tellingly enough, indiscipline has become a big problem for many schools in the Capital today. According to

Expressions India, a voluntary group of social and mental health which conducts workshops in 82 Delhi schools, indiscipline is the leading cause of concern for teachers.

The growing sense of alienation and the disturbing tendency to act on impulse is also evident in another disturbing crime statistic — one that the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) document acknowledges. Stress-related suicides and deaths are a leading cause of mortality among young adults in India today.

The education system has been drawn into focus for its blind encouragement of brutal competition, thus perpetrating a very narrow outlook on life. “The extent to which the boy in the Grover murder case went to dismember the body is a reflection of the education system that we are brought up on, one where you don’t think about others, but only of yourself,” says child rights lawyer P S Sharda.

These crimes, he says, are the first indication of blunders of our education system. “We are only thinking about ourselves and not about the consequences of our actions. What about social conscience? It is time for our policymakers to sit up and take notice of this,” he said.

This brings us back to the ‘insularity’ that has come to define life in the metros. Relationships have become more and more formal, never mind the seeming increase in socialisation that is on display.

Ahmed speaks of how people live with “dual sensibilities” — switching between catering to individualism and expectations from the family. “One acts in two different ways, in two different contexts,” he says.

This progressive deterioration of relationships is a concern that mental health professionals have repeatedly stressed on. As Abdul Mabood, director, Snehi, a New Delhi-based psycho-social support centre for young people, puts it: “The value for human relationships has been replaced by crude selfishness. The social fabric is crumbling and this is a very dangerous trend.”