Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE : India faces urban killing spree over trivial disputes

THE OBSERVER , DELHI

Like any young groom, Ajay Mann had been looking forward to his wedding. But the night before the nuptials he was shot dead, another victim in a spate of bizarre and apparently random killings that has sent the murder rate in India’s capital spiralling at a disturbing rate.

Mann, 22, had thrown a party on the eve of the big day at a north Delhi hotel. It was in full swing when two of his friends stepped up to the DJ booth and demanded he play their choice of music. When he refused, the pair left, only to return a couple of hours later to shoot him dead. Mann’s murder was one of 518 in the city last year — up 11 percent from 467 the year before. Police say that the majority of the killings had taken place for “absolutely ridiculous” reasons.

While the authorities have not offered an explanation for the sharp rise, psychologists believe that it stems from the stresses and strains of living in one of the world’s largest and most chaotic cities, where tens of thousands of migrants have arrived seeking to profit from India’s economic boom.

In the space of one year, a boy was battered to death with his own cricket bat because he would not admit he had been bowled out; a man was beaten to death with iron rods for complaining about the goat his neighbors had tethered outside his house; and a chef was fatally stabbed for refusing to serve poppadoms to diners in his restaurant.

Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychologist who has worked alongside the police in Delhi, said some people simply did not know how to behave in a city.

“Compared with western society, India is still very tribal. We don’t hold back our emotions and we escalate very fast,” he said.

“In the village you are supposed to go to the elders to resolve a dispute, but you don’t have a system like that in the city. What you do instead is resolve it on your own. You are carrying a village mentality into the cities and there is no introduction to people how to live in a city,” he said.

Mitra said the problem was magnified because Indians did not trust the police to settle disputes.

It seems that the more trivial the dispute, the more likely it was to end in violence. Police commissioner YS Dadwal said more people were killed in minor squabbles than died as a result of planned crimes.

The list included a man who killed his sister-in-law for not washing his clothes; a security guard who murdered a colleague for failing to turn up on time to take over from him; and the owner of a roadside food stall who was murdered by a customer for accidentally splashing water on his clothes.

“Many murders took place in a fit of rage without any planning,” Dadwal said. “Most of those who committed the crime neither had a criminal motive nor were criminals. They happened due to absolutely ridiculous reasons.”

Psychologists believe it is all a result of people struggling to cope with the rapid transition from life in a traditional agrarian society to a high-pressure urban lifestyle.

Delhi’s murder rate comfortably outstrips that of London, where there were 167 murders last year in a population of 7.5 million, a rate of one per 44,910 people. In Delhi, with a population of about 14 million, the rate was one per 27,027.

Delhi police claimed an 82 percent clear-up rate for murders last year, but the most notorious murder remained unsolved. In May, a 14-year-old girl, Aarushi Talwar, was found dead in her bedroom, her throat cut.

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