Aspiration, greed, jealousy, malice: Cops explain why urban murders are on the rise in India

What can explain the uptick in murders in India despite data on homicides that says they are on the decline?

Shantanu Guha Ray August 26, 2017 11:50:55 IST
Aspiration, greed, jealousy, malice: Cops explain why urban murders are on the rise in India

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about the rising incidence of murders, which offers a perspective from the point of view of cops, who have their own theories on why such homicides are on the rise.

What can explain the uptick in murders in India despite data on homicides that says they are on the decline?

Sometimes relegated to the inside pages of your newspaper, murders have become almost as routine as the splat of the broadsheet itself landing at your doorstep.

Could the numbers be waning because they reflect the decrease in gang wars and bandit bloodbaths? Voyeurism draws readers easily to the fast-paced, blood-pounding thrillers of gang clashes and the art and daring displayed in supari killings. These are now fewer than the days when the D-company ran amok in Mumbai.

The motives for the murders are shifting, sometimes to less than frivolous in many cases. But in all these cases, the murderers have a common intensity that drives them to take the extreme step — for jealousy, hatred, dowry demands, religious hatred, unrequited love — a progression of crimes such as stalking, harassment of women and a host of other reasons that did not require the snapping away of a human life.

Aspiration greed jealousy malice Cops explain why urban murders are on the rise in India

What can explain the uptick in murders in India despite data on homicides that says they are on the decline? Image via

While experts are already calling it disturbing, there is an outcry for more policing. This raises the question if keeping law and order will help or whether the real answer lies in buffing up trained detective units who will bust crimes and ensure convictions for murderers.

Over the last two weeks, as many as 20 murders have taken place across India, mostly in the northern and eastern parts with motives ranging from dowry demands to failed love affairs to arguments over career moves. In one such case, Ragini, a 17-year-old teenager from Ballia town in eastern Uttar Pradesh, was brutally murdered by Prince Tiwari, son of the village head, Kripa Shankar Tiwari, because Prince resented Ragini’s efforts to be an air hostess and shift to a bigger city.

Worse, the murder happened a month after a similar murder, for similar reasons, happened on the outskirts of Delhi where Riya Gautam was stabbed to death by her friend Mohammad Adil over her decision to become an air-hostess. “These are similar trends of male dominance and anger emerging out of the woman’s decision to shift to a bigger city, possibly leaving the boy behind,” says Nupur Prasad, DCP (Shahdara) of Delhi Police.

Those tracking such murders claim the reluctance of the cops to turn a complaint into a first information report (FIR) often helps the accused turn bold, bolder. That, unfortunately, is true to some extent. The cops do not agree, they counter it by saying if every complaint is turned into a FIR, then all police stations clubbed together in India would fail. “An FIR can be a stern warning, but those hell bent on committing a crime, are always found to be extremely determined,” says Prasad.

There are other issues as well. Barring rare occasions, India totally lacks both community outrage and surge police deployments, helping murderers easily add to their season of senseless slaughters. There are many factors — anger, helplessness, aspiration and unemployment being some of them — that have combined to produce the current homicide spree that began in mid-2015, the cops continue to remain flummoxed in their attempts to unpack the causes.

Riya Gautam was killed in broad daylight on a sweltering afternoon, bystanders waiting for the cops to arrive, losing vital time as she bled to death from as many as eight wounds inflicted by Adil. “The silence of people is equally worrying, it shows anyone can kill anyone, anytime. She would have been saved if rushed to the hospital,” says Ashish, Gautam’s brother. Sahadra, a sleepy neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Indian capital, is now joining a growing list of cities and towns in India betting that a better police station can lead to better policing, and in turn, avoid deathly crimes.

Seasoned corporate honcho Angarai Angrarian says murders are on the upswing in India because there is a growing divide between the people who live in buildings and work in offices and those who live around such luxuries. Riya’s aspiration to be an air-hostess was a “luxury” Adil could not afford, he was angered thinking he would lose her. “Murders do not sink into hearts anymore, people read such news and move on. No one reacts,” says Angrarian.

The cops say when cities are reeling from high homicide rates, it’s easy to find skeptics. They argue Indians, by nature, rarely make the police feel more comfortable. “It takes a lot more than guts or courage to make people want to go talk to the police. It is not happening in India, and it will never happen. People either live in a gated community and feel happy and safe and then get rattled when murders take place next door,” says Vishal Garg, additional commissioner, Kolkata Police.

Garg says it's difficult for the cops to shut down public facilities, and push more police in public places. “It never works, you cannot work with No Loitering signs, you cannot shut down a place forever because a crime took place. Vigil, only vigil must go up. People should not wait for the police but react instantly — like taking the victim to the nearest hospital, help us identify the attacker.”

Many stay away because of legalities in such cases.

Last year, the Supreme Court approved the guidelines issued by the Centre for instant medical treatment of accident victims and protection of Good Samaritans at the hands of the police or any other authority. A study by the SaveLIFE Foundation said the decision of the apex court will greatly change the attitude of bystanders in assisting victims — accidents or otherwise — and result in saving many more lives, at least 50 percent.

But murders are different from road accidents.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says an estimated 88 people were murdered daily in India in 2016, the figure likely to increase in 2017. The numbers, said NCRB, are from FIRs lodged for the deaths, the ones where no FIRs are lodged could be double the official figures.

Cops list greed, personal vendetta, anger, distress, property dispute, and lunacy as the four prime reasons for such murders because over time a relationship is formed, there is a fear of being cut off.

Gated communities are not the answer, those living outside it develop hatred for the ones in high rises. “Aspirational values often cause distress, a boy hates losing his girl to a big city, an estranged husband wants to return to his wife, a low salaried worker demands cash from his in-laws,” says Sanjay Saxena, JCP (Crime), Mumbai.

Saxena says murders always alarm society, sending signals for course correction. But, claims Saxena, very few react in India. There is a clear divide between the public and police.

“Indians love to live behind a thick sheet of plexiglass, happy using some extra locks on their main door. They refuse to believe the cities continue to remain a dangerous place,” say documentary filmmakers Ishani and Ashish Dutta.

The couple cite the April 2017 arrest of Balamurugan Shanmugam, an engineer who stabbed to death his mother, and and was caught attempting suicide at Mamallapuram. Shanmugam confessed to killing his mother and sister because he felt he too would die of cardiac arrest and that his mother and sister would struggle to live.

“Now this is another white collar murder where the motive is bizarre, there’s loads of lunacy involved,” says Ashish. “It would have not happened if Shanmugam was comfortable with his friends, neighbours and relatives, and confident nothing would happen to his family even if he dies. This is a society issue, a malice.”

Neighbours of the family in the Saidapet residential complex were quoted saying Shanmugam was an introvert, never opened up to anyone. It is the balance between access to comfortable life and safety that cops across India are trying to strike, and redefine the country's public safety architecture. And whether their efforts are actually improving police-community relations or lowering crime is a hard question, even for supporters of the approach.

“Everyone forms an opinion about the murder overnight and that first impression stays for long, no one is keen to dig deep,” says filmmaker Arindam Sil, whose movie Dhananjoy on the brutal rape and murder of Hetal Parekh in South Kolkata in 1990 by Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the watchman of her apartment complex, opened to mixed reactions.

Sil says doubts remain in murders, especially in those cases which are not resolved; in India it ranges between 55 to 65 percent of all cases recorded by the NCRB. As a result, killers assume impunity, and in many cases, the cops continue to retreat. The cops — claim many — are now less aggressive which, in turn, emboldens the criminals. The Homicide Monitor data said in 2016 that the most violent places in India are not mega-cities, but mid-sized cities of between one and three million people.

However, the only good news emerging from this gloom is that in some pockets in India, residents, far from being resigned, are outraged. This week, residents in a Delhi neighbourhood alerted the cops after they suspected a 34 year-old had killed his seven-year-old daughter from an earlier marriage to get re-married.

Dharamvir, who had lost his wife to Hepatitis B in June, 2017, had fallen in love with another woman, who promised to marry him only if he did not saddle her with the care of the three children. Dharamvir roped in his nephew Sanjay to kill his kids and make them look like natural deaths. A rate of Rs 30,000 was fixed for each murder.

Neighbours alerted the cops on 11 August 2017 when Dharamvir was preparing to secretly cremate his daughter Tanisha. An autopsy on the body revealed she had been strangled to death.

MN Tiwari, DCP (Outer) told reporters the arrests happened only because of the neighbours. “It helped us; that at least is a start.”

Even if it looked like a drop in India’s urban bloodshed.

The concluding part will take a look at the psychological side of the murders and explore reasons for rise in such homicides in homes across India.

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