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Violence in the city 2020

The urban landscape of ?superpower? India is set to be defined by serial killing, an unprecedented increase in rape and brutal assaults.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2006 15:41 IST

Mumbai 2020: Using stolen biometrics and evading private patrol helicopters, a gang infiltrates into Pali Hill, Bandra, though it is an armed fortress. They are not here on a kidnapping, though that is always lucrative. They are looking for two teenaged girls. They find the house, break in, and commit assault. After they slip away, all the victims can tell the police is that the gang members were all 14-year-olds…

Delhi 2020: Dhruv has not been home in years. He spends his nights wandering the carriages of the Delhi Metro. He has an income: he supplies trans-national gangs with stolen retinas, so that they can cross borders easily. He sources the retinas from unsuspecting passengers in deserted Metro cars. It matters little to him that he has become a serial killer, urban India’s latest scourge.

Though these may sound like fantasies inspired by A Clockwork Orange, the 1971 film about ‘ultra-violence’ set in London in the none-too-distant future, brace yourself, for the experts say this is the wave of the future. Bru tal violence in our cities in the coming years is almost inevitable.

“The way things are going now, we could have five new news channels to fill with crime stories,” says Kiran Bedi, director-general of the Bureau of Police Research and Development. There will be more kidnapping cases, like the recent one of three-year-old Anant Gupta of Noida, and more serial murders, like those by the Gurgaon taxi drivers. And the perpetrators are likely to get younger and younger. Call it the dark side of India emerging as a global power.

In 1991, 23 Indian cities had a population of over a million. Ten years later, there were 35 such cities. By 2020, there could well be over 50 such cities. “There is going to be a definite rise in violent crimes in urban centres,” says S. Latha of the University of Madras’s department of criminology. She puts it down to three factors: population growth, unequal employment opportunities to the literate, and the change in our values system.

B.B. Pande, a former professor of criminology at Delhi University, can see our cities becoming like many Western counterparts, where rapes on public transport are commonplace. Migration will put greater pressure on infrastructure, he says, forcing extended hours for systems like the Delhi Metro. “With more women joining the workforce, they will work late and use the public transport system,” he says. “So incidents of rape, molestation and snatching are bound to increase.”

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), rapes have gone up nationwide from 2,487 in 1971 (when figures were first aggregated) to 18,359 in 2005. Rajat Mitra, a psychologist with Delhi NGO Swanchetan, predicts the biggest increase in crimes will be violence against women and children. “They will become more vulnerable because aggression is increasing among men,” he says.

“The anonymity and indifference of a large city means a higher level of detachment, in which the victim is seen as an object rather than as a person.” Dayal Mirchandani, a psychiatrist with Mumbai’s Behavioural Science Foundation, gives three reasons for the increase in violence against women. “One, the family is breaking down. Two, women are becoming more independent — financially and otherwise — which means they are getting more powerful. Indian men have to adjust to that. Three, with real estate getting scarce, there will be men living on their own in the city, leaving their families behind. It is the concept of the dormitory town,” he says.

The breakdown of the family appears to be the biggest culprit causing increased violence. “Family ties that constrain crime are disappearing, even in rural India,” says Dipankar Gupta, sociologist at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Youngsters feel their parents and uncles who stayed back in the village are ‘losers’. But once they come to the cities, they realise they do not have the talent, education and skill needed to be successful. They do not even have the alternative social network, and hence, feel alien ated,” he says. “Misdirected youth will have a great potential for violence in the years to come,” adds Bedi.

Kunwar Vikram Singh, president of the Association of Private Security Industry, says that children from traditional farming families make up most of the notorious gangs. “Their land went towards urbanisation, they got a lot of money, and spent it all in a hurry,” he says. “But they adopted a lifestyle which required more money, and switched over to crime.” He sees a natural link between land feuds and crimes like kidnapping and extortion. And he foresees a fillip to such crimes with land being given to the creation of special economic zones.

Mitra points to an international study of 14- to 19-yearolds. They were asked who they turned to in times of crisis or trauma. “Their first preferences were loner activities, like listening to music,” he says. “Turning to people came at number eight.” Adding to this, he says, is the fact that “peer group assessment” is becoming more important for urban youngsters than “parental control”.

Sujata Sriram of the Centre for Human Ecology at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences sees an increased rate of school dropouts triggering more violent crimes. “The current school system is ill-equipped to handle children by the time they reach the eighth standard,” she says. “So we will have a lot of semi-educated boys who cannot or will not complete their schooling and get a job. They will be easy recruits for anti-social gangs.” “I see a lot of status crimes among the young that assert their powerful status,” says Latha. She predicts that the new trend of the future will be serial killings.

“Alienation and anonymity in urban centres, fuelled by a glorification of serial killers on the media and the Internet will lead to this trend,” she predicts. Mitra agrees: “With growing detachment will come fantasies that are increasingly bizarre, controlling and aggressive. Serial murders will definitely increase.” The other area for crime growth, according to Bedi, would be technology: “Criminal groups will use technology for brisk global and nation-wide crime, and conduct operations simultaneously in several places.”

Sanjay Pandey, e-security consultant and former IPS officer, gives some specifics: kidnapping could take a non-physical form, where the criminal could send you an email that locks all your files. He would demand a ransom, through a funds transfer, to unlock them. Or he could ‘kidnap’ your online or digital identity, the one you use to operate credit cards, bank accounts or ATMs. And Pandey sees an explosion of biometric crimes.

Policing in the future So what’s the panacea? Administrators and academics have long called for community policing. Latha points out that though this system is in existence in India in an informal way, it needs greater involvement of NGOs, as is the case in Brazil and South Africa. There is also the question of trust: in a society “that will be divided between the protected rich and the insecure poor”, as Bedi puts it, the vulnerable will only increasingly see the police as a tool of the powerful.

Some feel the problem is with the cities themselves. A.G.K. Menon, town planner at Delhi’s TVB Institute of Habitat Studies, feels that town planning has to stop being anti-poor. “The plan intends to push the poor to the outskirts. It needs greater participation of the citizens.” Pande suggests that the Delhi Masterplan 2021 include anti-crime planning.

Some are sceptical: Pandey sees policing going the way of health care. “Policing will become more diffused, and will move away from government policing to private policing,” he says. “Today, if you are ill, you go to a private hospital. But if you need a leave certificate or an insurance certificate, you go to a government hospital. That is the way it will be with policing in the future.” In countries like Kenya, Mirchandani says, the security problem is so bad that people live in colonies that are like armed camps. “It is a possibility in Mumbai,” he feels.

This is unlikely to curb the feelings of anonymity, indifference and detachment that the future city-dweller will feel. “These make the city the ideal breeding ground for crime,” says Pande.

Call it the dark side of development.

First Published: Nov 27, 2006 15:41 IST