Delhi

The threat within

“I asked her to accompany us to my sister-in-law’s house that day, but she refused and said she would go some other time. That is what cost her life,” Sunita (35) said, referring to her 65-year-old mother-in-law Rajwati, who was stabbed to death by a man inside her house in north Delhi’s Burari in June.

The accused, Shubham (27), used to work at Sunita’s husband Pramod’s shop and knew that the couple had left their home in the evening, leaving Rajwati alone. “Around 9 p.m, he came to our house and asked for a glass of water. Soon after my mother-in-law went inside, Shubham entered the house and began opening the cupboards in one of the rooms,” Sunita said.

After the elderly woman saw Shubham, she raised an alarm following which he took her to another room, pushed her to the floor, and stabbed her multiple times in the neck, eventually killing her.

“After robbing some of our cash and jewellery, he burnt our identity documents. He even wanted to burn my mother-in-law’s body but failed to do so as smoke started emanating from the house and neighbours raised an alarm, following which he fled the spot,” the daughter-in-law said, while sitting on the porch of her two-room house. “He (Shubham) knew that we didn’t keep our valuables in the bank as he had been working with my husband for a long time. He knew my mother-in-law would be alone and vulnerable.”

In another latest instance, 78-year-old Uma Jain’s house in Pandav Nagar was attacked in the early hours of October 3 by three bike-borne men who fired four rounds at the front door before speeding off.

“I have never faced such an incident in the 45 years that I have lived here.The front door of my house was damaged. My husband had passed away long ago; my son lives in Gagan Vihar while my two daughters have been married off. My son doesn’t visit me often,” the septuagenarian said, adding that she felt unsafe living alone. “It would be better if I am provided some form of police security, especially after this incident. I even have some space in my house to rent out and it will make me feel more secure.”

The National Crime Records Bureau report of crime in India in 2020 has put the spotlight on crimes against senior citizens, with Delhi topping the chart among 19 metropolitan cities. As per the data, 906 such crimes against elderly persons were recorded last year, of which 405 cases were of theft, 108 cases of forgery, cheating and fraud, 37 cases of simple injury, eight cases of assault on women to outrage their modesty, seven cases of murder, and five cases of criminal trespass. Significantly, Delhi was the only city reporting four cases of rape against elderly persons.

Of the 906 cases in 2020, chargesheets were filed in only 131 cases, the lowest among all metro cities at 25.3%. The total cases for investigation in Delhi till now stand at 2,090, which include 1,184 cases pending from the year 2019. The pendency rate of cases is 55.1%.

However, there has been a reduction in such crimes in 2020 as compared to 2019 when the number had gone up to 1,076. Mumbai had secured the first spot in crimes against senior citizens in 2018 and 2019.

In light of this, The Hindu spoke to victims, police officers, and Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) to get an idea how such crimes are planned and executed and how elderly persons have become vulnerable not only from outsiders but even from their own family members.

Modus operandi

A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, said, “These crimes mostly occur in posh and upscale localities where the accused know that the elderly person is affluent and has been staying alone with children living either out of the city or abroad.”

The officer said that usually there exists a well-organised nexus of maids, drivers, watchmen, among other employees, who keep tabs on which house can be easily targeted.

“This has mostly got to do with the inefficient system of background checks of such people. Most residents don’t think twice before hiring such persons; there should always be a foolproof police verification,” the officer said, adding that these employees know the minutest details of their potential victims such as what time they wake up, when the house is empty, and the location of valuables.

Another police officer said while robberies in senior citizens’ houses are prevalent, the offence becomes heinous when the said residents raise an alarm or refuse to succumb to the demands of the accused.

“Elderly persons have always been targeted as they are physically weak and can’t resist such attacks. Their long-time employees like drivers or maids influence their mind by being in their good books after which they eventually capture their property and start claiming its possession after their death,” another police officer said, adding that the Delhi Police exhorts elderly persons not to sign any document before verifying it.

Just three months ago, Kitty Kumaramangalam, the 70-year-old wife of former Union Minister P.R. Kumaramangalam, was murdered in a robbery bid at her house in south Delhi’s posh Vasant Vihar by her laundryman and his two aides. An investigator in the case said that a chargesheet has been filed in court which stated that the attackers knew that she lived alone, was affluent, and where the valuables were kept; which is why they targeted her house.

Domestic disputes

“There are also cases of intra-family disputes which affect senior citizens both mentally and physically. We have seen recurrent cases where the elderly person is harassed by the son or daughter-in-law over property and subsequently threatened with dire consequences,” a senior police officer from South district said.

DCP (Outer) Parvinder Singh said that he has handled several cases where most of the disputes are within the family where there is a tiff between the elderly person and their children. “There are instances where multiple siblings fight over ownership of property following which the senior citizens approach us,” Mr. Singh said.

“Most of such cases in my district do not necessarily lead to violence, but there are definitely cases of cybercrimes against senior citizens where they are duped through fake websites,” the DCP said, adding that around 160 cases of online fraud in his district have been registered as of now.

Another police officer from Shahdara district, who did not want to be named, said that cases have surfaced where the children ask their elderly parents for money and if denied, they resort to physical violence. “We have also seen around 10-15 cases this year where senior citizens have approached us after being duped online,” he added.

“Elderly persons are easy targets for online fraudsters as the former are technologically backward and might easily fall for fake offers and websites,” another police officer said.

An officer also cited a case of domestic tiff in Sarai Rohilla where an elderly woman was left abandoned on the road following which a media person spotted her and uploaded her picture on social media. “Thereafter, we intervened and contacted her son, who said that they were having some personal issues,” the officer said.

An official from North district said, “In one such case in our area, three robbers attacked an aged couple, tied the woman, and robbed the valuables. These cases are very common especially as servants in most areas are hired without police verification,” the official said.

Outreach initiatives

Delhi Police has a designated senior citizen cell which caters to grievances raised by elderly persons registered with them. “In most cases, where we are approached on our helpline number, elderly persons raise intra-family issues but in case we receive a serious case, we direct it to the local police for legal action,” an officer from the cell said.

Officers said as part of their outreach programmes in each district, a DCP-level officer, in addition to beat officers, personally visit elderly persons and discuss their grievances.

Vasant Kunj RWA president Dhruv Khosla said they have installed emergency bells in the houses of elderly persons in the locality.

“The problem lies with the service providers who know who has been living alone and is an easy target. They test the water by carrying out thefts initially after which they take the final plunge,” Mr. Khosla said.

“Senior citizens are no doubt vulnerable especially as so many workers enter their houses throughout the day and one can’t really trust their credentials,” Yogesh Malhotra, a resident of Vasant Kunj, said.


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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 2:39:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/the-threat-within/article37118472.ece

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