NEW DELHIi // Satyadev Mehta, 36, died one day last month after having a watery curry. It was not the curry that killed him. Fellow diners at the roadside eatery told Delhi police that Mehta, a locksmith, complained to the restaurant owner of the poor quality of curry and demanded a refund. The owner beat him to death, and is now at large.
The motive for the murder was perhaps not so trivial for the curry maker. But Delhi police records show that last year 15 per cent of the 523 murders in Delhi were committed after sudden provocation over trivialities. Although there was a decline in the total number of murders compared with 2008, such "fit of rage" murders had increased by almost five per cent. In the past year Delhi residents have been killed for tying a goat in front of a neighbour's house, hitting a neighbour's dog, jumping a toilet queue at a public lavatory, refusing to sell milk to a customer, stopping a man from urinating on his wall and refusing a glass of water to a co-worker.
What worries the city is that it is promoting itself as a world-class destination before the Commonwealth Games in October this year. Grappling with a peculiar murder pattern in its citizenry is the last thing city wardens need. Police officials say they are witnessing an upward trend in the number of murders involving "non-criminals". Officials say hundreds of street brawls and road-rage incidents take place in the city every day in the capital, which is home to nearly 15 million people from different ethnicities, religions and regions.
Despite the incidents of rage murders, the murder rate in Delhi is considerably lower than other international capitals. The murder rate in London, a city of seven million, for example, has been 170 yearly since 2003. John Victor, a consultant clinical psychologist at Vimhans Hospital in New Delhi, said stress is one of the reasons behind such implusive behaviour. "One of the factors leading to such crimes is stress. Stress often effects the anger management or rationality of a person during such situations. Their minds are often exhausted while they leave their workplace and such situations can be a trigger off," he said.
"Such persons lack the coping mechanisms and capacity to argue, discuss and negotiate." Many sociologists say such behaviour in a deep-rooted religious and closed society is unbecoming in India. They blame westernisation, a high influx of migrants from small towns into Delhi and an unempathetic nature of individuals as the main reasons behind the rise in such incidents. "Such things were very uncommon in India or Delhi; the street fights were restricted to verbal abuses, but of late, places like Delhi are witnessing fatal brawls. The high rate of migration is making Delhi urbanised, hence, there is no interlinking between individuals," said George Mathew, the director of the Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi.
"Media, particularly western media, is constantly influencing the minds of illiterate and poor people to act differently, which often creates false egos. Moreover, there is no feeling for fellow human beings," he said. Last month, the Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, expressed her reservations about the behaviour of Delhiites before the Games, which will run over 10 days. She urged people to change their behaviour towards each other and towards the guests.
"The culture of politeness and sharing and caring for each other, as well as the behaviour of the people in the city is not changing enough," Ms Dikshit said. Many experts believe there is an urgent need to polish and sensitise the population before hosting such mega events. Rakesh Bhatnagar, a sociologist from Delhi, cites the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2006 football World Cup in Germany as instances of where authorities took adequate measures to ensure that the locals behaved properly during the period of the games.
About 600,000 local and foreign visitors are expected during the 10 days of the Games. "People in Delhi are infamous for their bad temper and rough behaviour throughout India and certainly it will be a matter of concern during the games. There is an urgent need to start campaigns and a massive drive to guide people about how to improve their public dealings and anger management," he said. A former Delhi police chief, Ajay Raj Sharma, said rage attacks have remained a big concern for police in particular and the society at large. "Police cannot stop such crimes as these are done without prior intention. These crimes have nothing to do with routine policing, as they are more psychological and social abnormalities," Mr Sharma said.
"It shows that the respect for law by many citizens is not as it should be, therefore, they are willing to take the law in their own hands and kill a person." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org