Editorial: Crime is Never Petty

Social bankruptcy feeds antisocial tendencies

Speak to the old-timers, or leaf through a vintage edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, and chances are that you will learn that Sikkim, at one time, figured in the book under the enviable entry of a state with “zero crime rate.” The data that earned Sikkim this status is obviously suspect, since not reporting or documenting crimes is not the same as not having any, but no one can deny that Sikkim has been a safe place for a long time. Of course there have always been crimes committed; that, after all, is something every society has to live with. Of late, however, the nature of crimes has been showing a disturbing trend. Not only is violence entering the crime roll in higher numbers, but an increasing number of petty-burglaries with big hauls have become common, again, not all of them get reported to the police. News-reports arrive often about the nature of crimes now becoming increasingly common in the State – a planned burglary in which specific items are lifted, then a drug bust which occurs too routinely only because addiction rates are climbing, and then the rare murder which occurred over a minor issue. The other worrying statistic is the involvement of juveniles and the very young in too many crimes. One needs to only look at the criminal graph of the notorious “spiderman” of Sikkim to realize how minds and hearts, once inured to minor crimes can graduate to the more dangerous crimes. “Spiderman” started off as a petty burglar who climbed into hotel rooms and stole from tourists. He has since be involved in murders and violent jail-breaks. There have been other instances when masked gangs have carried out dacoities in villages and attempted heists, although that trend has thankfully subsided. What continues to occur too often, and what should worry everyone, are the opportunist crimes. Ask anyone who lives in the urban sprawls of Gangtok and Namchi, and they will know of a neighbor who had stepped out for a brief errand only to return to find the house burgled. This has happened often and have rarely been solved. It was obviously someone who has noticed habits and patterns and is familiar with the place, perhaps even the target persons, to pull off a quick job like that. For a state already grappling with a host of social challenges ranging from runaway substance abuse to growing number suicides to a high school drop-out rate, crime has clearly become the latest cause for distress. Although each of these challenges will require individual attention, they should not be seen in isolation because they are essentially interconnected in that they result from the socio-cultural and socioeconomic changes that have visited the State as part of ‘development’, modernity and mainstreaming. None of these are essentially negative influences but have collaborated to change lifestyles in Sikkim and while this change could have been eased with a more responsive society, fact remains that people at large were left to their own devices to ‘adjust’. The spurt in crimes and the involvement of kids too young to be held responsible for their deeds is possibly a product of imitative consumption which is too disquietingly common, especially among the younger generation. The obvious income inequality does not help matters and this situation, when catalysed by a largely absent civil society, eases the path leading to crime. The inference made above is admittedly speculative, and it should be a worrying sign when journalists end up speculating on social trends when these are better handled by professionals trained in making sense of such issues. But that is not happening in Sikkim, is it? And that is where the main problem lies. For all the profusion of NGOs in the State, there is none of any consistent commitment to issues of the youth. It is important that the people and their representative organisations notice the trend and arrest the slide by first understanding what it is that drives some of its young to such easy delinquency and then setting the aberrations right. The situation demands a collective response, which, if not addressed soon, will snowball into a presence that cannot be erased as easily later. The cops will obviously do their job of rounding up suspects and finding the culprits, but until the root cause is not corrected, the problem will persist. What is worse, disinterest will from a hardened crop of anti-socials, because juveniles in obvious need of compassionate counseling would have received only ‘police action’ and derision. Antisocial tendencies are not fed by economic poverty, it is social bankruptcy that cements it.