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)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Crowd-Sourcing: A World of Possibilities

The internet’s Pandora box is churning out new stuff by the minute. New apps, new concepts and a constant exchange of ideas have made the internet more powerful than ever before. But in this quagmire of unlimited possibilities, there are only so many things that can actually make a difference when it comes to addressing issues that affect our lives every day. One of such ideas is the idea of crowd-sourcing.

We have dropped the name, but what does it really mean?

Crowd- Sourcing is not a new concept per se. It was coined by two editors of the Wired Magazine, Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, back in 2006. It is a method of getting work, or funding by a large group of people, who are connected through the web.  Crowd- Sourcing also pertains to micro tasking, where small, repetitive tasks are performed by a small group of online workers.  Another way by which Crowd- Sourcing works is by source designing, where tasks such as logo designing is completed by interested people, say, in form of a contest.
One of the best known examples of a Crowd- Sourced website is Wikipedia. It collects articles from contributors and presents it to the user in the form of an easy to use encyclopedia. Another example of Crowd-funded site is Trevolta which allows travelers to exchange ideas for travel so as to raise funds for their travels. Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, leverages Crowd-Sourcing to help drivers navigate through traffic. Social ventures such as IChangeMyCity and Zerocrime are using Crowd-Sourcing to create a map of issues that affect citizens.

Crowd- Sourcing seems to be a great idea because it helps to reduce the former inhibitions which used to antagonize the free flow of thoughts and opinions. Through the internet, ideas can now be shared across the world at the click of a button. In recent times where privacy and anonymity are of huge importance, internet can ensure that they are respected. Also Crowd- Sourcing can help reduce the cost and time involved in gathering information by a single entity. The concept is also advantageous for government agencies to gain knowledge into the problems that citizen’s face, as well as see the solution that these citizens themselves suggest.

Crowd-Sourcing is a great way to bring together ideas and opinions to create something truly innovative. We will now leave it up to you to decide, whether Crowd- Sourcing is just a concept, or a world of possibilities, waiting to be explored.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crime Response and Action Eco-system - Idealistic yet Possible

Let me paint a picture for you.

On a busy Monday morning, Anahita, a 26-year professional is walking out of a coffee shop with her much needed morning coffee when suddenly she hears a loud bang. Then suddenly she sees it. Two men on a motorbike and wearing helmets have just shot a man in his SUV. Instinctively, she pulls out her smartphone and presses the power button twice. She has just sent out a distress notification.

Anahita’s location is now blinking on the screen of a Police Control Room operator. The operator recognizes that signal well. He locates the nearest PCR Van location on his touch screen and selects it. A direct communication link between the operator and PCR-A Van has been activated.

Operator: There is a distress signal from A-Block Market. The witness is Anahita. Her location in now active on your screen. Please investigate ASAP.
PCR-A Van: We are on our way. ETA 3 minutes.
Operator: I will update you with details.

The operator then selects the blinking signal generated by Anahita and a call to her has now been activated.

Operator: Ma’am this is the emergency response team. Are you under distress?
Anahita: A man just got shot in front of me.
Operator: The PCR Van is on its way. Did you see who shot the victim?
Anahita: Two men on a bike. I managed to memorize the license number. It’s XY 14 TM 9198. They rode towards C-Block.

The operator selects PCR-B Van, which is closest to C-Block on her screen.

Operator: We have a firing situation at A-block. The accused are on a motorbike with license plate XY 14 TM 9198. The bike is registered in the name of a ‘Kumar’. City tracking for their vehicle has been activated. Their current location is now active on your screen. Please pursue. PCR-A Van is reaching A-Block.
PCR-B Van: We are on our way.

Operator: Anahita. We have recorded your statement and you are a witness to this incident. Help is on the way. Please stand by.

The operator now selects the + sign on the right panel. He then goes on to select the closest medical facility and a direct communication link has been activated with the hospital’s emergency response executive.

Operator: Please dispatch an ambulance to A-block immediately. A man has been shot.

The operator completes the crime incident form with all details provided by Anahita. He just needs one more detail. PCR-A Van has reached A-block and is assessing the situation. Karan, the head constable approaches Anahita whose photo is on the tablet that he is carrying.

Karan: Ma’am, did you give the distress notification.
Anahita: I did.
Karan: Did you give this statement? (Shows her the statement on his tablet)
Anahita: I did.
Karan: Please put your right thumb on this sensor.

Anahita’s Aadhaar card registration manages to confirm her identity on Karan’s tablet.
The authorization from Anahita completes the operator’s form and he hits done. A digital witness report is now added to the case folder. A copy has been shared with the Crime Research and Analysis Wing.

This is part of what I believe will be the ideal emergency response system to crime incidents. Such a system would significantly improve the chances of the accused getting caught, the victim getting medical assistance in time, and a speedy trial due to evidence provided by witnesses. The technology that is required to make this possible already exists – Smartphone Applications, GPS tracking, Radio Communication, Finger-print-based Identification, and Navigation. In terms of technology, such an eco-system is not impossible to build. But high-end technology is only a medium to speed up the process. The most important ingredient that makes this system a powerful tool to fight crime is Anahita’s little effort of hitting the power button on her smartphone twice. Would you have done it?

The first step is to report crime. Start doing it today.