New Delhi is undoubtedly becoming more and more dangerous, especially for young women, both students and professionals.
The murder of Radhika Tanwar (20) in broad daylight and outside her college in Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi a few days ago comes as no surprise to those of us who know the city inside out. New Delhi is undoubtedly becoming more and more dangerous, especially for young women, both students and professionals. The Delhi Police may deny this. One should remember that in crime, what matters is not statistics but public perception. It is easy to dismiss Radhika's murder as the characteristic aggression of a male stalker who had been spurned by a young girl who never believed that someone in the world could be so obsessive and deranged.
These are early days of investigation. It is just possible that the case would be solved by the time this piece appears in print. The Delhi Police have produced a rough sketch of the assailant from nowhere, after their initial charge that no one who witnessed the crime had come forward to give a clue or two. Let us hope they succeed in hunting down the killer, just as they did a few months ago, when a girl was subjected to gang rape in a moving vehicle. The case was nearly blind but the police did a remarkable piece of job.
There are many features of Radhika's murder that stand out as typical of modern urban crime. The family members knew that Radhika was being stalked by someone for a few years. It is possible they also knew his identity, and have now shared the information with police. If they claim however that they are not aware who he was, that would be indeed strange. Even after learning that the girl was being harassed by a male, if they chose not to report the matter to the police, their omission borders on the culpable. This is of course typical of many Indian parents — both at home and abroad — who value family honour over the safety of their children.
Matter of concern
The Radhika killer used a firearm. This squares with the belief that homicides in India with the help of a gun are rising. This is of great concern. We were smug all these days that unlike the U.S., we had no gun problem. This is no longer tenable. If the murderer is ultimately traced, investigation should focus on from where he got the weapon. It is possible he himself was a licensee. If so, did he have reasonable cause — such as personal security — to possess a gun? We have a fairly tight licensing policy. But there are ways of circumventing it, especially if you are from an influential family and tout your wealth and business interests to show that your life is in danger from your rivals. Unlicensed country made weapons are also not a rarity these days and not difficult to procure, especially in States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Importing guns into a sprawling metropolis is a relatively easy proposition.
Murders like Radhika's keep reminding us of the need to keep a close eye on weapons that are floating around in many cities and towns. With elections in some States fast approaching, there is a ready market for firearms. The temptation to brandish them to intimidate your rivals is very high, and no region, including the normally peaceful south, is exempt from this alarming trend of firearms replacing traditional weapons.
This is again an occasion to review the state of security for women. Without doubt, many of our urban centres are highly risky for young women. With the growth in female workforce — thanks to the burgeoning IT companies — there is a definite case for strengthening precautionary measures. Many private corporations have a commendable system that protects women employees working late into the night. This is good as long as such employees do not flout company-laid arrangements. Some of them ignore basic rules of prudence, and unfortunately pay a heavy price for their callousness. In such instances, the employer is blamed for what is obviously a lapse on the part of the employee. Parental control which has otherwise become lax can prevail at least here, so that women professionals are made to adhere strictly to the facility extended to them at their workplace. Employers can hardly fill this role.
The police come under fire when incidents of the kind occur. This is natural, and police officers taking umbrage at citizen fury need to be trained to take criticism in the right spirit. Policing huge metropolises is tricky and complicated. Indian cities are chaotic not only from the point of view of traffic management. Crime control is least professional. Intelligence collection is almost negligible, something that many of my colleagues in the U.K. are greatly surprised about. Our intelligence work concentrates on the political rivals of the ruling party. There is no doubt a change in focus with the arrival of terrorism. But this has not ushered in a realisation that criminals with a known record and others who pose a danger to the average citizen also require to be documented and watched.
Prevention, a low priority
The police spring into action only after a sensational crime takes place. Otherwise, prevention of crime is of low priority because of the unconscionable diversion of precious resources to dignitary protection and regulation of political demonstrations. This is of course no longer a purely Indian phenomenon. Streets of London and many European cities are now subjected to the stress arising from massive public protests. These however have not diluted police attention to conventional crime. One explanation could be the generous use of technology in the areas of crime prevention and detection. The police will have to live with politically-inspired public protests, as long as democratic dissent is permissible under law.
My only complaint is that many Indian Police supervisors become complacent with mere deployment of manpower in trouble spots. Widespread police presence is no substitute for technology that is increasingly used by police forces the world over. The massive installation of CCTV cameras has worked wonders in a city like London. Not only has it introduced deterrence, it has also quickened detection, as it did after the bombing of the London Underground in July 2005. Indian cities are slow to resort to this simple but reliable technology. Private industry has used this most effectively. The alleged loss of privacy of individual citizens is no ground for postponing the introduction of cameras all over a city. The expense involved is something a State government can easily afford these days.
The Delhi Police force is a complex organisation. It draws its recruits from different regions of the country. There is therefore no homogeneity, which alone can produce effective policing. In spite of the odds stacked against it, the force has given a satisfactory account of itself. It has no shortage of funds or equipment. The Union Home Ministry (MHA) extends generous assistance. This brings me to the fundamental issue raised by successive Chief Ministers of Delhi. Why does the Delhi Police still remain under the MHA control? Reasons are both legal and political. Is it not time for a debate on this contentious issue? Not that I believe things would improve, even under a dynamic Chief Minister. There is a case at least for enhancing the stakes for an elected government and denying it an alibi for non-performance.
(The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi.)