What to do about increasing crime in India?

Lata Jain

It should come as no surprise that violent crime remains disturbingly high in India. Criminal behavior is a part of the general behavior of our society; therefore it is quite possible for criminal behavior to be impacted in one way or another by the current transition.

Of course the background to the increase in violent crime in our society is economic trouble, the dissolution of families, the breakdown of societal norms, and the problems that arise from them. Individualism is also a big problem. Obviously, the police cannot cure the root causes of these kinds of crimes. The crime prevention efforts of the police have limits.

lata jain

Lata Jain

For some crimes, such as rape, domestic violence, and assault – including assaults against children – the cases recorded are a small fraction of the incidents that actually occur. Sex offences” is probably the most damaging crime category of all. The effects are likely to be psychologically devastating for years, sometimes a lifetime. People usually recover quite quickly from a burglary, theft or even a mugging. But rape and sexual abuse offences have a long, grim tail.

Police and prosecutors have put great effort into encouraging victims to come forward – the belief being that a trusted state justice system is an effective tool in reducing the profound harm caused by sexual crime of all kinds.

There were more than 2,700 recorded rapes against girls under 13 – a rise of 25% on the previous 12 months and the highest ever recorded. This is evidence not of a more brutal society, but arguably a more sympathetic one.

But we may still only be touching the edges of a social problem that profoundly damages millions of lives.

Cybercrime is a fast-growing area of crime. More and more criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity of the Internet to commit a diverse range of criminal activities that know no borders, either physical or virtual.

In the past, cybercrime was committed mainly by individuals or small groups. Today, we are seeing criminal organizations working with criminally minded technology professionals to commit cybercrime, often to fund other illegal activities. Highly complex, these cybercriminal networks bring together individuals from across the globe in real time to commit crimes on an unprecedented scale.

The crimes themselves are not necessarily new – such as theft, fraud, illegal gambling, and sale of fake medicines – but they are evolving in line with the opportunities presented online and therefore becoming more widespread and damaging.

Criminal organizations turning increasingly to the Internet to facilitate their activities and maximize their profit in the shortest time

There is much uncertainty at this point and this is quite normal in circumstances such as these. Whenever there is a change in government or profound change, this could create uncertainty. In this case, the criminal behavior has increased; it could have gone the other way because of the uncertainty; it could have been reduced. Perhaps while the country is going through this transition stage a more stringent security strategy should be implemented as a result.

However, while the exact reasons for the increase in the crime rate are unknown at this point, there are always specific causes which are associated with a particular type of behavior, whether it be at the individual, institutional or societal level. Nonetheless, the government and the relevant institutions, such as the judiciary, law enforcement and overall, the criminal justice system, Ministry of Public Security, etc, still have a range of considerations available in their quest to solve this problem.

While our laws have substantially changed for the better, and our Constitution protects the rights of all Indians and establishes the principle that all are treated equally before the law, in practice this has been very difficult to achieve. These institutions can apply the concept of uncertainty avoidance in addressing the problem of the rising crime rate, even though all the details on the possible causes for the increased criminal behavior are not available. A key point to note is that, whenever there is extreme ambiguity, anxiety becomes intolerable. Anxiety causes people, even criminals to behave in certain ways. Technology, law and religion are ways society has developed to deal with uncertainty. Technology helps to avoid uncertainties caused by nature; the laws and rules are a way to prevent uncertainties in people’s behavior, and religion on the other hand, helps to put into some perspective the uncertainty of our future as human beings.

The enforcement of the laws and rules are critical to the strategy of reducing the spiraling crime rate since these are the means within the control of the authorities at this stage. There is a saying that change comes either through something dramatic or through something traumatic, this is very relevant when one examines the process of change.

The identity of the police must change. This means that the police, more than looking at crimes already committed, see themselves as playing a role in resolving individual troubles and local problems. This is much more difficult than the passive reacting to crimes and related issues of normal police work, because they must find the hidden crimes committed within their jurisdictions. It requires being near to the emotional lives of the citizens, and demands initiative and an understanding of the social sciences. Every problem must be understood both qualitatively and quantitatively. To solve concrete problems various public and private organizations must work together, but in fact that is very difficult to achieve.

It is difficult to slow this steady erosion of the law when respect for, and confidence in, the institutions of state, including the police, are undermined by the daily experience of citizens in their interactions with the criminal justice system.

Perhaps even more significantly, attempts to change attitudes towards the rule of law are stymied by the disrespect demonstrated for the law and the value of life by the very people responsible for making and enforcing the law.

For as long as those holding political office appear to act with impunity, or cynically use the criminal justice system to dodge very serious allegations of the abuse of power and state resources, we cannot reasonably expect citizens to respect the law.

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