Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Undoing the Ideals of a Great Nation - Racism and India

The past few months were eventful in regard to India’s stand in the world. One of our own diplomats was treated in a manner not befitting her stature in the United States. The nation was in the state of an outrage.  The outrage stemmed not only from the fact that an important ally chose to humiliate our diplomat, against all tenets of international law, but the fact that our country’s representative was subjected to racism of sorts. 

While the national anger wasn’t misplaced, a few people from the National Capital stooped down to commit the same crime which we so abhorred a few days ago. The Nido Taniam case has reopened old wounds. The Indian mainland isn’t a stranger to crimes against people from the North East of this country. When Prashant Tamang, the winner of Indian Idol 3 made waves with his singing, an RJ from Red FM quipped, ‘shopkeepers will now have to make their own security arrangements as Gorkhas have taken to singing.’ This comment also attracted a widespread anger by the people belonging from the North East. And these are no isolated, random events. Throughout history, people from the North East have been treated as aliens in their own country.  

But people of the Seven Sisters are not just the ones who live through the scourge of racism in our country.  People from the state of Bihar and neighboring states have been subjected to racism in states like Maharashtra and other states. As foreigners, India’s track record for treating its guests hasn’t been to stellar as well. Ironically, people of African origin are some of the worst affected in India. The irony lies in the fact that Mahatma Gandhi, as a barrister sought to remove the scourge of racism in apartheid South Africa and we, his children indulge in the same wrong which he tried so hard to right. 

But all is not lost in our country. People from the all parts of our country play a very vital role in our day to day lives. People from the North East, Bihar and other states form a force to be reckoned with called the Indian Armed Forces, men and women who protect our borders and keep us safe. People from different states are responsible for providing essential services that help us run our daily lives as well.  

While racism is a crime of the mind, it is not too hard to root it out. We can prevent it by: 
  • Interacting more with people from different states and countries at our office, college, school or workplace 
  • Appreciating the diversity in our country by travelling and discovering more people and their culture 
  • Applauding and respecting the contributions made by people of different states for maintaining national integrity 
  • Educating our children to be more receptive and tolerant towards people of different races 

Respect for members of different states is paramount for national integrity. Let’s take a pledge to be more inclusive of our brethren from distant lands of this country. 

If you too have been a victim of a similar crime, file a report with Zerocrime at

Article written by Vistrit Choudhary, a writer and volunteer with Zerocrime

Picture Credit- AksdaReflection

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Tug-of-War for Delhi Police

Since the election of the Aam Admi Party's to the helm of the State of Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been creating waves. Either as an activist protesting against corruption in the country or giving two of the bigwigs of Indian politics a run for their money, the unconventional Chief Minister has challenged the core based on which the Indian democracy has been running. Mr. Kejriwal recently received the wrath of the media for his campaign to bring the Delhi Police under State Government’s control. While the idea seems to be logical at face value, the story has to be dug a bit deeper to provide a just assessment as to whether the Chief Minister’s demands were actually rational.

Delhi Police under Delhi State Government
  • It is the responsibility of the state government to maintain law and order in the state. But without full control over actions of the Delhi Police, the government will be paralysed in fulfilling this responsibility as the instrument for control of law and order is not in their hands
  • The Chief Minister has been a crusader for abolishing corruption in public offices. Delhi Police has not had a stellar record in terms of its commitment to curbing corruption. Maybe a firm leadership under the current government may improve the situation in the matter of corruption
  • Being under the purview of the state government, the Delhi Police will be made accountable to the state government. This will ensure that fundamental problems within the department such as corruption, apathy and inefficiency can be curbed more effectively.

Delhi Police under Union Government
  • Delhi is the nation's capital and is home to all the Central Government offices and Embassies. This requires that the central government be responsible for the security of these offices so that relevant security concerns can be dealt with swiftly. A similar model is followed in Washington DC in the United States
  • The constitution grants Delhi only a partial statehood status. This implies that Delhi does not enjoy full statehood privileges hence the home ministry is responsible for its police force
  • While the Delhi Police is not accountable to the MLAs of the state government, it is still accountable to the highest law making body of the land, the parliament
  • Delhi Police requires a huge budget and considerable autonomy to function efficiently. This requires the central government to contribute funds for its upkeep and hence, needs the Delhi Police to be answerable to the central government.
  • Transferring Delhi Police to the Delhi government at this time requires a constitutional amendment. This amendment process will be tedious and time consuming
  • Mr. Kejriwal's idea of splitting the control of Delhi Police between the state and home ministry would cause the city to have two police bosses. This may create incoherence in function and loopholes which would work in the favour of those trying to evade the law
  • If the Delhi Police remains with the central government, it will be hard for any MLA from the state government to interfere with its work. This would prevent the Delhi Police to become an instrument for ideology propagation

While the debate goes on about who holds the reigns of the Delhi Police, it is necessary to understand that both sides have logical arguments to support their claims. This problem ultimately affects the common citizens of Delhi. A solution in this regard only can be reached to a proper, informed consensus from the people and with dialogue between the two parties involved.

The article has been written by Vistrit Choudhary, a writer and volunteer with the Zerocrime initiative. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WITCHCRAFT: Women Sandwiched between Supernatural and Patriarchy

As if there weren’t enough reasons to inflict pain on women to show male dominance, murder due to ‘witchcraft’ is emerging as a significant crime in a few states in India. Many women in these states are branded as ‘witches’ or as those ‘who practice the art of black magic’. Once branded, they are tortured and battered. In many cases, they are forced to eat their own excreta, gang-raped, and beaten to death. Despite the fact that these crimes are as heinous as they sound, it is shocking to learn that very little has been done by the government to curb this menace. It is frightening to see that such a crime is tolerated even in these modern times.

In India, this crime is predominant in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Orissa. Such geographic variation suggests that this crime is not contained to a particular region of the country. Together, these six states account for a staggering 82% of all witchcraft related murders in India in the last decade.The highest incident of this crime in the last decade has been in Andhra Pradesh with total murders amounting to 323. States in close steps with Andhra Pradesh are Jharkhand (316) and Orissa (290).

The prevalence of these murders was brought to light recently by the murder of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. His murder has sparked debate about immediate need for astute legislation and effective enforcement. Witchcraft has its roots in ancient belief and superstition. Even with strong laws, it will not be easy to gain compliance and hence, corrective steps and measures such as education must be taken to ensure that innocent women do not become victims of these beliefs. For example, states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh have already enacted laws to restrict black magic but these states have been fairly unsuccessful in containing this menace. The change has to come at a community level. There is an urgent need for the government to launch a nationwide campaign against witch hunting. Workshops should be organized to educate people and make them realize that witch hunt is a serious crime.

Article written by Mohammed Wasil, a Research Analyst and Volunteer at Zerocrime

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Drink Too Expensive - Drunk driving, Death and a Civic Disaster

25th of December. It's 12:30 in the night. A group of boys race away their cars on a highway near Delhi, intoxicated in youth and free flowing Jack Daniels. Time has slowed down for them it seems, hence they drive away. Fast. Dangerous. While they blast their worries into oblivion, little did they know that oblivion would be their only sanctuary this fateful night. One dark corner, the driver turns the car at 120. The car turns skids and rolls over. Fading into oblivion, the exuberance of youth was lost.

While the story mentioned above is just a figment of the author's imagination, it is not entirely fictitious. Drunk driving is a big menace and a harsh reality of the times we live in. Romanticization of a high life with little fear of reproach or safety drives many to commit this offence. While it's all fair in the movies, it is not in real life. In a 2012 research paper, professors at SRM University bring to light the fact that India recorded the highest number of road accident related deaths in 2010. Of this, roughly 40% accidents were linked to alcohol. Majority of these offenders fell into the age group of 21-30. Untied by familial responsibilities and with no dearth of resources, many from this age group tend to be foolhardy with their lives and those of others. Having said that, make no mistake in thinking that only the youth are to be blamed. Drunk driving is common across all age groups however, the only thing that varies is the average level of blood alcohol.

While it is easy to comment on lack of civic sense in our youth, it is also important to note the fact that only a handful of such perpetrators are actually handcuffed and put behind bars. Many get away with petty bribery which further puts the lives of common citizens at risk. Out of 24,564 cases which were reported and taken to trial, only 3,400 perpetrators were imprisoned. But is the law enforcement machinery solely responsible for this menace? Lack of education, lack of respect for laws, and little involvement of citizens in these matters are the significant factors contributing to the prevalence of this crime. It is imperative for the citizens and establishments to come together to mitigate the incident of drunk driving.

What should you do?
  • Don’t consume alcohol like oxygen. If you must, do it at home. When you drink and drive, you risk your precious car, your life, and the lives of innocent law-abiding citizens
  • When going to a party with friends/family, always have a designated driver who does not drink
  • If a designated driver is not available, take a cab to the bar/club. It will turn out to be cheaper in the long run
  • Do not give in to your inebriated friend’s request to ‘fly’ the car. Be smart and secure the car keys

How can establishments (such as bars and restaurants) help?
  • All establishments should offer the facility of arranging Radio Taxis/Auto rickshaws for their guests
  • Establishments, particularly bars and clubs, should encourage guests to not drink and drive with catchy creatives
  • Establishments that have valet parking, should offer their own drivers (at a cost) if they sense that the guest is inebriated and incapable of driving. In such a situation, they should refrain from handing over the keys and call security services in case the guest creates a ruckus
  • Bartenders and servers should be given directions to refuse additional alcohol to guests who are in an inebriated state
How can citizens help?
  • Be a good Samaritan and call the police immediately when you sense negligent or drunk driving
  • If the drunk driver is alone, try and engage him and hide the keys. Then call the police while he is looking for the keys
  • If the drunk driver is in a group, it’s quite likely that all are drunk. Don’t engage. It could turn out to be dangerous. Directly call the police
  • If possible, follow the car and alert the nearest PCR van that you see on the way. A little effort can save lives
  • Educate your children on the perils of drunk driving and other road violations
These steps may seem somewhat idealistic. But driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs is not a slow poison. It’s cyanide. It is a suicide attack that not only kills the perpetrator but is also responsible for collateral damage of property and innocent lives. Your little effort can save someone’s live – be it the driver or the unsuspecting pedestrian. 

Article written by Vistrit Choudhary, a writer and volunteer with the Zerocrime initiative

Friday, January 3, 2014

Section 377: A Violation of Fundamental Rights

July the 2nd, 2009, a Thursday, may have been a regular day for you or me. But for a community of close to 2.5 Million people, it was a day which would change the state of their existence. This is the day when the Delhi High court made a landmark decision of making India the 115th country to decriminalize homosexuality.  But the ‘Gay pride’ could not stay for long. About 2 years, 5 months and 9 days later, the country was plunged back into oblivion that reminds us of the dark ages. Homosexuality was criminalized again in a country with close to 1 billion people, roughly 1/7th of the world.

It would be worthwhile to study how the LGBT rights are protected in the apex body of global organization, the United Nations.  A landmark resolution, A/HRC/RES/17/19 passed on 14th of July in 2011, close to the time when Delhi High court declared article 377 unconstitutional, commissioned a study that documents discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in all regions of the world. Furthermore, the resolution called for a panel discussion to debate on the findings of the study. This resolution was formed on the basis of a fundamental law of Universal Declaration of Human Rights that affirms all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. This resolution was historic in nature as it marked a huge change in the global stand towards homosexuality. While the world is becoming more considerate and progressive towards LGBT rights, the reinstatement of article 377 by our country may be a step in the wrong direction.

India is to a large extent in contradiction to the rights of equality and non discrimination it preaches to the outside world. But it is not new to see a nation put its own internal policy above that of the United Nations.  India is at a juncture which makes it hard to choose between what its laws state and what it holds dear in principle. Articles 14-16 of the constitution embody this fundamental right of equality before law and non discrimination. Articles 17 and 18, collectively, further the philosophy of social equality. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion or sex and Article 19-22 guarantee freedom.

A relic of the Raj, article 377 subdues the right to freedom. It does so by preventing two consenting adults to take a step which both deem fit harmless to each other and society at large. While it is true that some might argue that gay sex can be a cause of AIDS but with 2.08 million cases of HIV in 2011, the LGBT population can’t be blamed for this menace in its entirety.  The article also stands in contradiction to the principles of equality before law defined in article 14-16 by chastising the LGBT community and making it criminal in the eyes of the law. Also, while homosexuality isn’t much of a public evil like marital rape, it still is criminalized as it is considered unnatural. It wouldn’t also be a stretch to imagine that the number of hate crimes towards the LGBT community may increase if the law chooses to not consider them to merit an inclusion into the society in a legal sense.

In this article, we have mentioned the situation of how international laws and our own ideals of freedom and justice are violated by this overturning of a major decision. It is for every citizen of the country to now decide whether just the ‘unnaturalness’ of an act of love is a reason enough to violate the basic rights of man and citizen.

Article written by Vistrit Choudhary, a writer and volunteer with the Zerocrime initiative

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vindication of a Criminal

Crime has existed almost as long as mankind has, and has ingrained itself as an Achilles’s heel in our society. It can neither be eradicated nor foreseen and has to be borne. The scriptures and murals of the ancient world also depict petty thieves, gamblers, and warmongers. In today’s world, the media has given us as a comprehensive picture of the scale of atrocity that our society sees on a daily basis. The past month has witnessed sexual scandals, a brutal assault in an ATM, shocking murders, chain snatching, robberies, and child trafficking. Corruption too has bewitched our society, right from the petty bribes we pay all the way up to multibillion scandals that have defaced our country’s image. Crime, at each level of hierarchy, is here to stay.

Our heart melts when we read about a 10 year old girl ruthlessly raped 20 times a day, or about an old lady who was struck on the head with a machete. We are left ruing the state of our society and hoping the law takes it proper recourse and strikes the criminals. Most of us also seem to have a flair for sensationalism and jump at any opportunity to be armchair critics and pass their own judgements and character assassinations. However, thinking beyond all these knee jerk reactions, have we ever spent time pondering over what creates these criminals? Why has crime become so rampant that criminals have formed their own class and strata in society? What were the factors that fostered and drove them to become so heartless and wretched?

‘Criminals are not born. They are made’

At some point of time in our lives, each one of has felt tempted to commit a crime, irrespective of the gravity of it. Sometimes, we are so insinuated by injustice or malice, that we start fuelling a vendetta against someone. We might have really wanted to kill someone because of blind hatred and irritation. We have contemplated running off from shops without paying.  Some of us have probably even stolen small amounts of change from our parents! Personally, I have always had this kleptomaniacal urge to steal chocolates and even did it once! We all have our share of petty lies and blames.

‘Our impulses are too strong for our judgement sometimes’

However, it is that one instigative spark at such a moment that transforms an ordinary man into a criminal. Your entire future boils down to that one threshold decision you take (To be, or not to be). Most of us have the sense to dispel these petty thoughts as soon as they are formed. Some, however, play along with these malicious ideas and step foot into a world of ignominy and sin. So, what leads them to this wrong decision?

'The laws of genetics apply even if you refuse to learn them'

Science has explanations that delve into pathology and genetics. Researchers have proven that most criminals have a particular chromosome passed down that makes crime inherent in their genes. This gene may go undiscovered for generations before a person actually exhibits such traits. This chromosome has also been said to be the reason for most criminals being male. In any case, the evidence has been insufficient to firmly assert that criminals are born. Genetic disorder, in spite of having little weightage, simply cannot be used an excuse for those who commit crime.

‘Circumstances make man, not man circumstances’

Environment is another factor that breeds criminals. Poverty is one such factor where basic necessity drives people into resorting to wrong ways. Their impoverishment often leaves them with no other option. Their only goal is to survive tomorrow, even if it renders them blind to all ethics or justice of any sort. Various mafia movies have depicted how poor and ordinary men are forced to take up arms in the face of prejudice. Some men, who lose all faith in the law of the land, erect a court of justice for themselves and abide by its principles. I quote from the movie Nayagan, ‘As long as it feeds four mouths, nothing is wrong’.

'Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell who you are'

In other cases, it is peer pressure and social stigma that pushes people to the brink. The behaviour of others around them influences them in a wrong way and begins to play on their mind. Eventually they resort to crime to emulate their associates, or to just prove a point.It again all comes down to a person’s ability to distinguish right from wrong.

‘He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have’

Greed, desire and lust has always been one of mankind’s biggest follies, be it Dharmashtra’s greed for gambling or Cleopatra’s greed for men. It takes an immense amount of moral courage to know when to say no to one’s desires. Many criminals have been led astray by falling prey to these desires and in the process have forgotten their moral code. If desire were to have a bound, we could draw a line on how much it can devour and mutilate a person’s mind. However, it is endless, and only grows exponentially onto a person each time he gives in to it.

‘If you wield the sword once, there is no putting it back’

When one commits his first crime, it completely shatters his moral barrier between right and wrong. Nothing feels wrong anymore, as it has already been done once before. There seems no turning back, now that the barrier that held them back has been breached and destroyed. In some vague sense, it is society’s fault that criminals continue to roam the streets. After completing their jail sentences, most criminals are unable to assimilate into the common society. They are slighted upon as a despicable class of beings that can never be reformed. They are feared, discriminated against and do not receive opportunities to rebuild their lives.  They are condemned to retribution and go back to their old ways.

‘First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes the man’

Alcohol superficially seems the best way to socialize or to drown sorrows. The fake ‘high’ that it gives often incenses people into heavy drinking who long for that transitive happiness it gives. At the same time, it consumes men and makes them behave without their own sense, judgement or consciousness. It destroys their ability to make sound judgements or to even thinking before acting. Hence, it is no surprise that most crimes occur at bars or by drunken men. It has been alleged in the media that Tarun Tejal was intoxicated before making advances towards the journalist. It is quite likely that he had little clue of what he had done. There are also many cases of drunken brawls and reckless driving. Statistics have shown that 35% of all crimes and 2/3rd of all assaults are by those in an inebriated state. Is it really necessary to be such a spineless slave to alcohol and dance to its tunes?

We agree that crime isn’t something that we can remove with the swish of a magic wand. Even centuries may not be enough to completely root it out. However, being aloof and passive towards crime is a crime by itself. We can start by identifying criminal tendencies of those around us, and help them if needed. We can be more vigilant ourselves rather than to whine about how unsafe the roads are. We must come together as a society and collaborate on ways to mitigate this menace. Together, we may one day make zero crime a reality. 

Article written by Girish Kumar, a writer and volunteer with the Zerocrime initiative.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Attack on India’s Daughter: Did We Learn?

On the anniversary of the brutal attack on Nirbhaya or simply India’s daughter, Zerocrime analyses how we have progressed on not only on the issue of improving the safety of women but also on the perception of women in our society.

Increase in Reporting of Cases
According to government statistics, the number of cases of rape reported in 2013 has increased significantly. Between January and October 2013, 1330 cases were reported compared to 706 cases in the whole of 2012. This indicates that either rape incidents in the Capital have almost doubled or the more likely explanation that survivors of rape incidents and their family members are now coming forward and increasingly reporting to seek justice. Another explanation is that now it is mandatory for the Police to file an FIR on the complaint of a woman. This is a positive development but reporting is only the first step in order to seek justice. Has the Government taken any steps to ensure speedy justice for the survivors?

Steps Taken by the Government/Police
Pressurized by the public protests that followed the brutal attack, the Government introduced stricter laws that made stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment a crime. A fast-track court has also been set-up for speedy trials of rape cases. The Delhi Police has also taken steps to ensure increased safety of women. These steps are listed below:
  • Set-up women-run helpdesks at Police Stations that function round-the-clock
  • Increased Police Helpline (100) lines from 60 to 100
  • Made it possible to register cases anywhere in the Capital irrespective of jurisdiction
  • Established a ‘Crime Against Women’ cell for redressal of complaints from women in distress
  • Operates helplines for women (1091, 1096, 181, 9818099012)
  • Introduced a women’s Post Mail exclusively for complaints from women
  • Introduced an all-women Police mobile team that patrols throughout the day
  • Issued orders to ensure immediate registration of FIRs in cases of crime against women
  • Increased patrolling at night

While these steps taken by the Government/Police seem like positive developments, it is important to note that these are primarily curative in nature rather than preventive. While these come in handy once the crime has been committed, shouldn’t steps be taken to avoid the crime happening in the first place? Also, have these steps had a real effect on the streets of Delhi?

The Real Story on the Streets of Delhi
In a country with patriarchal traditions, the effect of the brutal attack, steps by Government/Police, and the verdict of the Delhi High Court awarding death penalty to four of the accused seems to have had little effect on the way women are treated on the streets. According to reports in the media, women say that they are still stared at, are made targets of lewd comments, and followed on the streets. Autos still refuse to take passengers and CCTVs are still not completely functional. According to a media report, the Delhi Police Women’s helpline received 2,000 calls within a span of 45 days after the brutal attack. Most of the complaints were regarding being stalked, getting obscene calls, and domestic violence.

In short, women in India are continued to be viewed as objects of sexual gratification and a year seems too short a period to notice any visible effects of last year’s incident. While the Government and other law enforcement agencies seem to have placed a strong structure for reporting of crime, few steps have been taken to eradicate the root of crime against women.

(Data sourced from NDTV, First Post, India Today, IBN Live)