Sunday, August 25, 2013

Crime in Context

December 2012 happened, August 2013 happened. For a country of more than 1 Billion, it would be something of a herculic achievement, if those were the only two horrific crimes in a span of 9 months.

Unfortunately I have a feeling and you could look this up, horrific crimes happen daily in our country. Crimes against women, children, men, trees, animals, aged, historic monuments, crimes against children yet not born.

My hypothesis is that crimes can't be solved in isolation. If you try and find a solution for "rapes against women" you'll end up back where you started. The reason being that while each crime has its own genesis there is a much larger existential context in which it happens. So while a rape may so to say be an act born to a large extent from sexual depravity as compared to a household robbery which maybe an act born of the rich-poor divide. But the impunity and frequency with which they happen would suggest that they have strong linkages. Which means that we need to address both the specific and generic causes of crimes.

Listed below are the aspects that i believ to a large extent define the existential context in which we operate:
1. High population and high population density: These two together are a force to reckon with. if you assumed that across the world with the same standard of education, poverty etc, criminals were 1 to every 1000. A population of 1 billion would give you a lot of criminals. Coupled with a high density of population would mean that the concentration and frequency of crime would increase. It would also mean that criminals would be in close proximity to each other thus allowing for syndication of resources.

2. Low education rates: Here please note I haven't used the government's euphemism of literacy. Literacy means a person can read and write, while I would have to swallow a whole block of salt to believe the government figures of literacy, even if they were true for our purposes they would be meaningless. By education I mean percentage of population who has studied history and society, has learnt rational thinking and has developed an ability of question. Those figures unfortunately are not tracked by anyone. But given the number of literate private car drivers on well lit Delhi roads using high beam. I don't have much hope for what those numbers would look like, if tracked. What this means is that we have a huge population which has largely not been taught to think before act. To put it crudely a large part of the society is a bunch of animals draped up in a spectrum as wide as rags to Armani suits.

3. Poverty: Here is a wobbly wicket. While I believe we have more criminals in the rich than the poor and there are probably similar number of rape crimes being committed by the affluent as those who are deprived, if we look at poverty on a larger frame it is something that creates an enviornment that promotes crime. If you have nothing to lose, if you have no means of giving an education to your children, if the daily surroundings around you are full of dirt, disease and crime you are creating a viscious concotion that seeks to poison anyone who comes near it.

4. Governance framework: For a population as large, as dense and as undeucated the size of police force (and judicial strength) that would possibly be effective and the size we currently have in terms of ratio to be people being protected there is a huge mismatch. Unfortunately what that means is no matter how much we try a brute force approach to the problem would only increase our tax bill and nothing else. Luckily technology in the last decade has grown and is growing by such leaps and bounds that if we start putting our brains together we can effectively reduce the physical force we need and increase their effectiveness. Also the low education rate and poverty has a large say in the quality and maturity of our police and judicial force.

Within this large generic framework we must also explore the specific context of each type of crime.

Do I have in mind an effective solution to the problem. Unfortunately no. However I believe that is better than the half cooked solutions and laws I've been hearing people talk off. What do I believe are some of the low hanging fruits that may help in reducing crime?

1. Go for technology: Enable the police force, as well as the common person on the street to deter and report crime. Phones have cameras, we have the lowest telecom rates in the world. Use that to help record crimes. Make it easy for people to report crimes without requiring them to always get involved.

2. Govern the police: A forum from the public should be empanelled to audit how the police and / or other civic bodies function. None of them handle national secrets that need to be protected. The police needs to start learning that their bosses are not politicians, but th public. On the same note, make the police independent of the state. Promotions, postings etc should be controlled by an in-house body much similar to the way it happens in the defense services.

3. Support the police: December saw Delhi seeing thousands of youth daily on the streets protesting against the government's inaction. If only the same populace could be part of a volunteer police force, our severed short staffed police force would have many more ears and eyes to watch over the public. Companies could support the cause by providing 2-3 days off in a year so that their employees could volunteer for such causes.

Alleviating poverty, increasing education are a long distant dream that requires a strong government will, and given the state there, I'm leaving it out for the moment.

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