Rising incidence of heinous crimes like extortion and gang rapes on highways and communal assaults even in villages and the incapacity of authorities to punish or even book dastardly killers in States like Uttar Pradesh, have sent shock waves across the nation. While victims of Siwan, Kunda and Badaun await justice, those like Mohammed Shahabuddin and ‘Raja Bhaiya’ have not only made a mockery of law but also developed enough clout to win elections and allegedly threaten journalists, judges and Chief Ministers themselves.
No doubt, gangsters and mafia lords exist outside India too. In the advanced West also, where huge profits are available in the flesh trade, drug peddling, money laundering and arms and human trafficking, thousands are organised in criminal syndicates ready to kill or maim for profit. But the extent to which hardened criminals have found entry in our legislatures, ministries and big business, and accumulated power, prestige and immunity from law is a matter of grave concern. During the first decades after independence, criminals could not even stand for elections.
Today, in some States, they have graduated from aiding politicians to controlling them. Honest officers are transferred, promoted and sometimes murdered at their instance; their ‘businesses’ run along corporate lines and entire industries such as real estate, bootlegging and entertainment channels, have been swamped by their henchmen who can run kidnapping and extortion rackets even from jails.At times, enemy states also use them for unleashing terror, riots and disaffection in the country.
But this is not the whole story of growing crime in India. The cancer has struck the very core of society. Extortion and molestation are being reported even from places of worship, Vice Chancellors of some universities now engage musclemen to maintain ‘order’ on campuses, prostitution rackets have moved beyond brothels and hotels to housing societies. Most worryingly, we as citizens, have watched the rot spread or found amusement in films and entertainment flooded with the underworld’s protégé and lingo.
Further, the number of youngsters from affluent families resorting to kidnapping and carjacking just for ‘fun’ and white collar criminals supplying fake medicines, therapies and university degrees without inviting opprobrium from kith and kin indicates pervasive criminalisation in an increasingly desensitised society.
There are also the shocking incidents of more crimes, such as forced withdrawal of girls from schools and the use of carcinogenic colours and chemicals over farm produce, are being reported with alarming frequency now.
The geography of crime, however, raises doubts against the assumption that these things happen in inequal societies. Japan and Singapore are highly unequal societies but with minimum crime, while egalitarian Yugoslavia turned out to be one of the worst centres of hatred and war crimes in recent times. Within India, economic contrasts as well as feudal, caste and gender inequities are starker in States such as Haryana and Rajasthan, while many more dastardly crimes are being reported from States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where lower caste mobilisation has been stronger and more successful. The role of poor governance in regions suffused with identity politics and the sway of ruling party cadres over police and the lower judiciary, need to be given greater attention than distant goals of complete equality or the abolition of private property by our scholars.
A concrete plan of action against registered and unregistered crime in this light can yield good results. Indeed, inbuilt checks in our Constitution, the fundamentally pluralist character of our people, the record of some of our Central institutions, including the Election Commission and the higher judiciary and the presence of a minority of honest officers as well as politicians and activists, are keeping the system going. But, if the rot is to be stemmed firmly, then a range of other reforms would be needed. Several inquiry commissions have listed pertinent measures in this regard. We need to act, and act fast.
(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of History, Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi)