Tuesday, January 26, 2016

City Lights 3: Crime in the City

Cities are open places where people could move around without much social and legal restriction. There are sanitized zones and demarcated locations where entry is restricted by order in every city. Those edifices are either government installations or other strictly private enterprises where some amount of secrecy is maintained for the smooth running of such establishments. While they keep this secrecy in functioning they exude a sort of transparency and authority that eke out some kind of respect and admiration from the people who happen to pass by them. Despite the presence of security men, CCTV cameras, armed guards and policemen, barriers, metal detectors, body frisking, automatically moving walls, luggage scanners, warning signage and so on, people tend to look at these places as democratic set ups where they could seek service, support and justice. Cities thrive in such kind of deception. People who hail from different strata of the society learn to read the markings and markers, signage and restrictive presences with taking much offence and restrain themselves from entering into such places. Stories and news items that narrate the plight of the trespassers and the kind of punitive measures taken against them also function as social deterrents. To put it in others words, cities at once allow people’s movement and also in many ways direct their movement within the city limits. While anybody use public roads and streets, the roads leading to gated properties are often avoided even by the freedom loving people even if there are no signs that prevent people from entering.

This social conditioning pertaining to the free movement of people within a city considerably adds to the mental makeup of an ordinary citizen living there.  He/she learns to accept, judge, respect and fear both the visible and invisible restrictions without complaining much about it. The youth, who often breach social restrictions, also behave when it comes to the public and private establishments’ physical limits for the fear of them getting branded as terrorists in the newly emerged scenarios. This particular idea of control has its by products and repercussions in the social body and psyche. Most of the time, we could see a city getting vandalized by unknown people and also the cities witness the criminal graph rising, at times in uncontrollable pace. Compared to any other human habitats, cities are the places where increased presence of crime and criminals is felt. Most of the sensational crimes happen in the cities. Though the governments take so many measures to control the crime level in a city, criminals make their presence felt through the acts of crime. However harsh the punitive measures are, the criminals still repeat, ironically the silliest and the most atrocious sort of crimes in succession. At times, a particular kind of crimes like rape, passion related murders, heist etc., happen like a windfall. One may wonder why only in cities such things happen where people have freedom to move around, a sense security imparted by the security personals as well as the CCTV cameras. A deeper analysis of this issue takes us to an interesting answer and that answer is the inseparable nature of crime and the very idea of a city.

A city is an organized space with a dominant presence of governance as manifested in the town hall, assembly building, police station, military outpost, carefully planned streets, bridges, flyovers, parks, housing areas, offices, markets, commercial centers and so on. An individual who lives in a city is expected to negotiate between and through these spaces and places on a day to day basis even if he is not consciously aware of such personal negotiations. An ordinary citizen understands the city of his dwelling through different levels of narratives that include newspapers, television and his own personal journeys through the streets and other places of the city. A persona has to meet, confront and negotiate these spaces in different levels and together they make him/her aware of the general lay out and character of the city. Some people develop a deeper understanding of the city either by reading about it or by wandering through the lanes and inner layers of the city in order to know the complexion of the city life from close quarters. Most of the people however are not interested in such deeper and closer engagements with a city because of various reasons including the busy schedule one follows and the general apathy. The more people are disinterested in knowing a city from the close quarters, the more are the chances of the criminals moving around, mixing up with these disinterested people and behave as if they were just like anybody else. Their very knowledge of the people being disinterested makes their works easier for them.

However, the question is not who the criminals are, but why there are crimes in a city. As we imagine, a city and crime are not two different entities. The seed of both lies in the very notion of organization. When we say a city is an organized space/place, we need to see that what is left out in the organization form another parallel network or remain as scattered dregs in the social body which apparently looks organized. Interestingly, the people who organize the city themselves also cause the birth of crime when they create different interest groups within the organization. For the smooth functioning of an organization or a city, the governing bodies cannot take care of all the suggestions and opinions. This exclusion of certain opinions give birth to disgruntled elements within and without the organization that try to make their presence felt by acquiring power by other means. When the greed and avarice that precipitates within the members who are already a part of the organization causes the gravitation of the disgruntled elements towards them and together they start creating a power group through the amassing of wealth by the means of syphoning out from the public exchequer. This parallel power group is the primary cause of corruption within and without the organization that creates a series of networks that would help the primary corruption remain intact and undetected. But like any other organic system in the course development necessitates branching out and allowance of autonomy to such branched out systems this organic nature of corruption too makes other autonomous corrupted units that resorts to criminal means to maintain and exercise power by developing further parallel and intersecting networks.

A story of a murder reported from a city may apparently look ‘innocent’ (yes, innocent in its exclusivity and general nature at the same time) for many of us. But if one looks at with the above mentioned perspective one could understand that the ‘innocent’ murder is no longer an innocent murder or not even general in its nature. Let us take the example of an angry husband killing his wife suspecting of her extramarital affair. This is one of the commonplace incidents that we read in the newspapers reported from different parts of the same city or from different cities. This murder, from a shallow point of view looks like an innocent case, which is not connected to any political party, religion, caste, dowry issue or any such thing. The cause of the murder is the lack of trust or the actual finding of the husband. He got made and he killed his wife. In the same week perhaps we would read similar incidents reported from elsewhere too. Even at times we may think whether one incident caused the other. We need to see the ‘innocent’ murder as a complicated social outcome. The trust issue of the husband is not an autonomous issue created all because the suspecting nature or a psychological state of the husband. It may be created because the husband’s point of view must have been developed by watching a particular kind of movies or reading a particular kind of novel, or watching pornography, or his affiliation with certain friends who are interested in spreading such rumors about others’ wives, his affiliation with a political party that gives him some sort of legal insularity, his job as a very influential officer and above all his belief in his right as a man to have the sole power on his woman or his strong faith in the ideology of treating woman as the ‘mother’ who is saintly like the mother nation. The provocation must have been triggered by one of these. Even a daily wage earner who lives in a shanty does the same crime, if not any other reason, his idea of maleness must be one reason behind the murder, which renders the crime connected to a series of social, ideological, economic and political relationships that take us to the primary case of organization residues.

This particular case of a murder also cannot be generic because it is like any other suspecting husband killing a wife even if the circumstances are different. The crime cannot be generic because each murder like this is triggered by the aggressor’s blind faith in one of those powers that I have mentioned in the earlier paragraph. One may kill his wife because he thinks that he has money power and he could come out of the legal system using money. Another person may think that he has political power. Some may take knowledge as a cover and with the added knowledge of things he may think that he could hide from the legal hands of the state. So there is not generic crime as such; they may look alike but they differ from case to case. So is the case of rapes that are in the increase in many cities both in India and in the other developing countries. Rape is not a biological aberration or aggression that vandalizes the innocence or dignity or the gender of the victim. It is an assertion strongly clad in the desire for sexual gratification but in the fundamental analysis it is an act of male aggression of proving his right over the woman’s body. Hence, each rape is a byproduct or an outcome of the socio-political, economic and religious situation caused by the state as an organization. A rich man raping a woman or an inebriated laborer looking for some fun and raping a woman are fundamentally an act of the social dregs caused by the organization (of the city). In the mind of the aggressor, somewhere he feels the need to assert his authority and as he is rendered useless by all other means what he could use is his body as a weapon to prove on/against another human body.

This ideological nature of rape is the ideological nature of a city. In my view, a city creates its share of rapists, robbers, thieves, pickpockets, murderers, hooligans, goons, sharp shooters, molesters and so on. The more a city gets organized, put under surveillance and security personals are adequately distributed, the more these bad elements become active in a city. In a country where population is in a disproportionate state with the security measures and is on the increasing side, the magnitude of security measures is always less than expected. Even if it is increased to make people confident and the other parties fearful, still the crime rate in a city will not come down unless and until the cities reorganize and redefine the very idea of city organization. Rape, despite all awareness campaigns and punitive measures is on the rise in the cities. Why is it so? Rapists are conditioned by the society and the city as an organization in itself in such way that they feel the aggression that they show could be at some point pardoned and excused because  the city as an organization begets and at the same time anticipates such anti-social elements in the process. They almost look like the entities that add color to the general narrative of the society. The more a city tries to curb them the more they will come up with new ways of raping and doing mischief. If a robber is caught and taken away from the social narratives, many other robbers in waiting think that the very removal of a robber from the narrative assures a space for them to make an entry. And this absence of narrative is also filled in by the popular mediums including cinema by creating new and celebratory narratives about thieves and criminals who are basically do gooders happened to operate from the wrong side of the law.

When such popular narratives fill in the gaps created by the city in the process of taking away the rapists and thieves (generally the criminals) from the real life narratives, a rapist could appear like a person who was in love with the girl but was spurned by her. The rape was just an act of assertion and he at times is ready to marry her even! The new spate of incidents that involve the videographing of the act of rape and then proliferating it through the social mediums like whatsapp and eventual suicide of the rape victims cannot be seen as the extension of crime into the new medium but it has to be seen as the result of the allowance of similarly ‘exciting’ videos via whatsapp by the city/state itself. It happens in a society where the law makers watch pornography when the assembly or parliament is in session. So the spreading of a rape incident by the perpetrators themselves is an act that seeks social sanction of their ‘brave’ act. I am not implying that the state should clamp down on the social media and censor such connecting platforms, but I suggest that the city/state cannot act innocent as it is the city that has created the crime which could be documented in real time and sent across to a large populace via social media.

If the aspect of crime is removed from the fabric of city, then I would say a city ceases to be a city. A city needs to cater to the criminals too exactly the way it caters to the law abiding citizens. But the cities do not accept this. They always pretend that the crime is an after effect of the city; they refuse to accept that it is a byproduct that came out along the very organization of the city. When a city is highly organized with the help of the civic and military authorities, the criminals who are automatically generated by this centralized organization become equally strong. That does not mean that all the city organizations should be disbanded and a new structure should be put in place. No that is not the solution. The solution lies in the redefining and re-visualizing the very idea of city organization. The streets should be inviting the people to walk on more frequently than that happens these days. That is the first step towards the decentralization. When more people are walking in the city, the criminals cannot just strike a lonely victim. When everyone is walking the power of some within the cars or other vehicles automatically collapses. When technology is used for making the governance more efficient, people really need to go to a ‘work place’ to work. They could work from anywhere including home. When someone spends more time at home, people develop closer relationship with the family members.

City, compared to a country is a small unit therefore easier to govern. A city needs civic authorities to help the people out; there should be an elected body that oversees the development works and the security of the people. There should be expert bodies who would device plans for the city. There should be cultural giants who would be an integral part of the city administration. When a society is open both in the streets and homes, the crime rate will come down. Then the police will behave like friends. The cities should be claimed by people than by the authorities. The moment we give away the authority into the hands of a few people, with the centralization of governance, crime will automatically develop. People should organize themselves as culturally inclined and politically aware and socially integrated cosmopolitan people. This needs the basic killing of one’s ego and desire. One should think about freedom of movement within a city. The cities should be reclaimed by the people. They should say roads belong to the pedestrians. They should say the roads belong to the cyclists. They should say that polluting a city is the primary crime. We can do it, provided we take off a little bit of time off from the smart phones and look at the people who are just like us; half angels and half devils created by the organization called the city.  

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