Why are the dispossessed so often seen as criminals?

by Farzana Versey
Khaleej Times
December 29, 2010

The man behind the Nithari rapes and murders of several women whose skeletons were found buried in his farmhouse in Noida, which comes under the National Capital Region, was educated at a tony university in Delhi. He was not an immigrant. Yet, increasingly, immigrants are being considered outsiders or undesirable characters, the Fagins asking in an Oliver Twist manner for more.

When India’s home minister, P. Chidambaram, rubbished them he was mildly reprimanded. He got away with an arrogant withdrawal of his remarks to “put an end to any controversy”. In times of controversies, the demeaning nature of his comments and its consequences are lost. He had dismissed the recent incidents of gang rape in Delhi by saying, “It takes place because Delhi attracts a large number of migrants. There are a large number of unauthorized colonies. Migrants who settle in the city’s northwest colonies carry a kind of behaviour unacceptable in a modern city. So crimes do take place.”

It is rather revealing that he emphasises only the lower class areas. He has forgotten the case of the murder of Jessica Lall by a party animal. He has forgotten about Sanjeev Nanda who mowed down six people under his BMW. He has forgotten about Shivani Bhatnagar, a journalist who was killed due to her proximity to certain powers. He has forgotten about the traps laid out in Delhi’s farmhouses. That the weekend homes have moved to the outskirts does not absolve the capital of indigenous crimes; they are exporting their malevolence that includes cannibalism as happened in the Nithari case.

It is also important not to dismiss the existence of crimes against the migrants. This is a reality the world over, especially in societies where they migrate to as cheap labour. The whole neo-Nazi movement in Germany was based on an anti-immigrant idea. The same applies to the dot-buster gangs in America or the killing of students in Australia.

However, when we talk about such discrimination within the borders of one’s own country, it signifies an economic parochialism. The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of movement and livelihood, but the migrant who wishes for a better life is seen as a refugee. Recently, in Mumbai there was the case of a tantric who was charged in a few rape cases. In the beginning it was reported as a criminal offence. Within the span of a couple of weeks it came to pass that he is a Bangladeshi, an illegal entrant. This is one more reason to beat people with. The local parties in Mumbai have been talking about Mumbai for Maharashtrians and aligning it with Maratha pride, when they know that it is those who have arrived from the north who run most of the regular services. These people have been attacked by party goons but one does not expect respect and consideration from parties like the Shiv Sena.

With Mr. Chidambaram’s statement, the concept of a modern city itself alters. Cities expand spatially to accommodate others. Satellite townships are extensions of the city, like its limbs. In Delhi, there is a rather quaint emphasis on old money. It reeks of feudalism, for those who talk about it are merely inheritors and not conceivers. The middle class here is largely made up of the bureaucracy or those that need the bureaucracy – fringe politicians, traders and small business people. They have a natural instinct of being the upholders of morality, and their morality makes sure to get in line first for the capital’s vast offerings of clubs, intellectual centres and housing facilities.

Delhi does not have a thriving underworld because most activities are taken over by the government, so barring a few of the rich in legitimate enterprises, the other natives go out for a bit of peddle-pushing of illegal wares. They invest in properties on the outskirts, which is where the crimes are committed. The victims tend to be poor, and are often those who have come to work from outside. They could be leading the nomadic existence of construction workers or moonlighting as maids in households, not to speak about the huge amount of human trafficking that brings them here. There is also the racket of labourers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who are auctioned in Amritsar and Ludhiana.

It would not be fair to completely dismiss the possibility of their committing crimes, but they do not come to the city for that purpose. In fact, a metropolis’s bright lights make them aware of their paltry existence and spark the desire for upward mobility.

This seems to be the crux of the argument against them, a sort of envy being turned on its head. Chidambaram rather charmingly mentioned that he too was an immigrant. Indeed, but one who has an advantage of representing his state. With a top portfolio and a bungalow, his status is not that of a refugee. Rather, he is the one who adds to the superficial fabrication of cities being pluralistic paradises when the reality is quite different. The slums of the immigrants are purgatory, and it is from this rotten hell that the city’s modernity manages to get its glossy finish with its washed cars and waiters wearing uniforms without a crease. The crime they commit is of keeping the fa├žade intact.

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