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Contours of crime

ORGANISED CRIME: C. K. Gandhirajan; APH Publishing Corporation, 5, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 995.

UNTIL A few decades ago, the average police investigator in India was used to handling crime that was committed mainly by single individuals. While this class of crime still occupies most of police time, the relatively new phenomenon of small or large criminal groups coming together for illegal activities poses a major challenge to police ingenuity. This also stretches the already slender resources of police forces. Organised crime, as this is called, affected America considerably during the 1920s and lasted for several decades. "Godfather" portrayed the ruthless efficiency of criminal gangs on the silver screen. We also know how Al Capone, with his successful defiance of the new Prohibition law, brought the fabled Chicago Police down on its knees. Ultimately, he was charged and sentenced only for tax evasion in 1931 as, ironically, there was little evidence for trying him for murder or any other heinous offence.

India was relatively free from the depredations of criminal gangs approximately until the 1960s when one saw the rise of several gangs in Mumbai. Initially coming to notice only for bootlegging, we now know how these dreadful gangs, some of which have international connections, have greatly widened the scope of their activities. Their resort to extortion and kidnapping has frightened the affluent but otherwise fragile film industry out of its wits. This has led to some sensational happenings that have hogged newspaper headlines in the past few years. Some other cities like Chennai, which had initially been insular from this development, are now reeling under this new class of crime. Organised crime has naturally attracted scholarly attention the world over from academics as well as policemen.

An IPS officer from Tamil Nadu, C.K.Gandhirajan's recent work on the subject is a welcome addition to the already sizeable bibliography. The book displays evidence of assiduous and disciplined research. What is noteworthy is that it is not airy or vague, but carries specific information on a wide spectrum of gangs that have come to notice in India. This makes the author's labour meaningful to many who are fascinated by the modern crime scene, especially the growth of gangs.

A whole chapter of the book is devoted to organised crime in Chennai, a city that was placid until a decade ago but has now a vibrant and pernicious underworld that thrives in some of the most ill- serviced localities. Interesting is the classification of the gangs according to their specialisation — mercenary crime (crime committed by gang members hired by individuals with a motive against the victims), theft, prostitution, trafficking in liquor or drugs and cheating. The author accounts for nearly 60 gangs in the city with a total membership of about 350 who were responsible for 1351 registered cases during the period of study. These statistics do give an idea of the magnitude of the problem that confronts the Chennai Police. We talk frequently of a politician-criminal nexus. The author's study does confirm the fear that the two are mixed up, posing acute embarrassment to the police. According to him, there is a nearly symbiotic relationship between them.

Overall, the book plots the contours of organised crime vividly. It provides useful material for police trainees, besides giving a few ideas to criminal justice policy-makers. Gandhirajan would do well to follow up on his present study, possibly a few years from now, and come out with a status report to let us know whether there has been a radical change in the profile of those who join criminal gangs and there is evidence of the police trying out new strategies to combat the menace.

R. K. Raghavan

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