Delhi Underbelly: Basic Instinct

The underworld of THE INDIAN CAPITAL is like a schizophrenic, super rich city trapped in crime

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

She was lying on the hospital bed, writhing in pain, in a dingy, dirty clinic run by a retired colonel in the upmarket Saket neighbourhood of South Delhi. Rani (name changed),18,  a tribal girl from Gumla, Jharkhand, had gone through a painful procedure to remove the remnants of the foetus, which the lady doctor in neighbouring Madangir had apparently forgotten during the hurried abortion  performed the previous night. Rajkumar, who runs the placement agency, through which Rani was employed, brought her to the lady doctor. She had returned from her employer’s house in Faridabad, complaining of something unusual in her menstrual cycle. Rajkumar left her at the clinic and fled, saying he would come back with money for her treatment. He never did.

The next morning, one of the nurses at the lady doctor’s clinic discreetly informed Shakti Vahini, the NGO, which has been working for many years among destitute and trafficked children and women in Delhi. Aware that the ‘case’ would go to the police, the doctor quietly took her to the colonel’s Saket clinic instead of a government hospital as is the rule. The lady doctor’s conduct has been far from exemplary. Questioned, her versions are loaded with contradictions. Why did she do a botched-up operation hurriedly? Why did she agree to do it in the first place? Is it because of a repetitive pattern of making money from dubious sources?

“The doctor gave me the pills,” Rani told this reporter, debunking the lady doctor’s theory that it was Rajkumar who gave her the abortion pills before bringing her to the clinic.

The ‘colonel’, the male doctor at the Saket clinic (which he runs with his wife) was even more crude, prejudiced and insensitive. “It must have been consensual. Don’t believe this girl. Her vagina shows that she is habituated to sex,” he said publicly. “I do so many such abortions every day; even mothers bring their pregnant, unmarried daughters.” 

“Witness the condition of this clinic. These doctors seem to be performing only illegal abortions,” a senior police officer from the Malviya Nagar police station told this reporter. “Even that Madangir clinic appears to be a hub for female foeticide. This doctor must be hand-in-glove with the placement agency.”

“Look at the audacity of this doctor. He simply doesn’t care as to what kind of circumstances force these girls to come to Delhi,” said an activist.

Rani spoke haltingly: “Rajesh, who runs a placement agency in Aali village near Badarpur, sends his wife to Jharkhand to get girls who are willing to come to Delhi.” She quietly asked the NGO activists to fetch her some clothes. The next bed had a woman in labour with several relatives present at the hospital, praying for her well-being. Minutes later, a nurse rushed out of the delivery room with a newly born boy. And universal happiness took over all the relatives, the clinic full of sounds of joy and euphoria that still surrounds the birth of a male child in India.

“See the stark difference. This girl doesn’t even have her mother to whom she can narrate her ordeal. She has not even spoken to her family in Gumla for  many months,” said Rishikant, the director of Shakti Vahini. 

“It was the wife of Rajesh (Raj Kumar's partner) who lured me to her house. In the dark of the night she put me on a train to Delhi,” said Rani. She said that Rajesh forced himself upon her in Aali village near Badarpur in Haryana, bordering Delhi, when all the other girls had gone to sleep. She did not report it to anyone. So overpowering was her fear that she did not even raise an alarm. She was later sent to a house to work. “They are easy prey for these men even though they are supposed to be their guardians in this alien city,” says Rishikant. “These placement agencies need to be banned. They are the ones abetting crimes of this nature,” added a police officer at the Malviya Nagar police station.

“I will file a police complaint against Rajesh. He not only raped me but also never gave me any money even though I worked so hard for so many months,” said Rani. 

Earlier, the heart-rending story of Baby Falak shocked the nation. Equally shocking was the brutalisation of Falak's 13-year-old mother who was trafficked and gang raped over months in Delhi. Recent reports pointed out hotels in South Delhi where women are trafficked and raped for months by all kinds of men.

In March, a 14-year-old child who was working at the house of a doctor in Delhi was rescued after the neighbours heard her crying and informed the police. She had been literally imprisoned, locked up in the house without food for days, whiile the young doctor and his wife holidayed in Thailand. She was kept hungry, beaten, tortured, abused, made to work endless hours and forced to sleep on the ground. Not only Delhi, the inner life of our urban, upwardly mobile societies is flooded with many such horror stories of domestic helps being brutalised behind closed doors. Like the recent case in Jamia Nagar where a domestic help was raped for four months, allegedly by the son of the family.  

The nature of crime in the capital has shifted paradigms. Individual values and social ethics have taken a deep, dirty, deadly plunge. Touted as a world-class city, Delhi’s uncanny underbelly, especially among the inaccessible,  and cocooned rich, can often stink. Huge social and economic disparities, unbridled exhibition of unimaginable wealth and symbols of luxury by a handful, and the insatiable ambitions, aspirations, deprivations and frustrations of new capitalism seem to be stimulating many more unhappy ruptures, often spawning a vicious quagmire of visible or suppressed violence. And in most circumstances, even while the rich and powerful are sanitised and protected in their affluent zones, it is women, especially the poor, out there in the open, struggling in their daily existence, who bear the brunt of the perverse melodrama of male machismo.

It's happening in most brutal forms every other day, including gangrapes, rapes in car, murders, hacking of bodies, dumping of bodies in suitcases. One Nigerian killed a girl from north-east in Delhi and kept the hacked body in the fridge

“What do they do if they do not come here,” asked Rishikant. “One should go and see the kind of poverty which engulfs the regions these girls come from.” Most of the girls are trafficked from Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and`Assam, etc. They are pushed to ‘service’ the households of working professionals and the rich in big metros. “The ones trafficked from Bengal and other states like Andhra Pradesh are usually forced into prostitution,” said Subir Roy, an activist who works on anti-trafficking campaigns with Shakti Vahini. “They are usually kept in areas like Kotla Mubarakpur or some such ghetto where they are brutally beaten-up, and even gangraped, before they are sold to prospective buyers at GB Road, the red light area in Delhi.”


Recently, in one such case, a  woman from 24-Parganas in West Bengal whose husband worked as a contract labourer was sold off at GB Road after a man lured her from a house where she worked as a domestic help. “We keep receiving tip-offs from the state police about the presence of the trafficked girls on GB Road,” said Subir. “Most of them land up  completely brutalised after they agree to come to the capital in search of brighter prospects, a better life.”

“I would not say they are trafficked. They come to the capital of their own accord. In most cases there is no missing person complaint in the home district,” said Inspector Suraj Bhan, in-charge of the New Delhi Railway Station police station.

Crime against women is on a steep rise in Delhi. There have been sensational cases of women being raped in moving cars, even while police barricades are all over the place. It’s happening in most brutal forms every other day, including gangrapes, rapes in cars, murders, hacking of bodies, dumping of bodies in suitcases. One Nigerian killed a north-east girl in Delhi and kept her body in the fridge.

Earlier, a Swedish embassy employee was raped in her own car after being forcibly picked up in the parking lot of the bustling Siri Fort Auditorium complex in the heart of south Delhi. The two rapists were never caught. Nor were the rapists of the northeastern girl who was forced into a car near the South Campus of Delhi University. The list is long.

In the neo-rich, lawless neighbourhood of ‘rape capital’ Delhi, as in neo-rich big business, big builders’ and big land shark zones such as Gurgaon, Noida or Ghaziabad, it is unsafe for all concerned. People get routinely shot after minor tussles and road rage cases, in ostentatious wedding parties, in mafia wars, revenge stories and family rivalries. Girls have been molested outside shopping malls by mobs, others have been abducted, raped and left on the streets, while still others have been murdered after being raped. Even a 70-year-old woman was raped, murdered and robbed of her meagre belongings by a rickshawpuller in west Delhi.

Organised prostitution, both high-and low-end, has become almost legit. ‘Five star’ massage parlour ads in mainstream newspapers are lewd and self-explanatory. Central Asian girls are routinely caught with rich clients, for exorbitantly high prices, even while it is common knowledge that many of the parties offer cocaine and sex as part of the deal.

Individual values and social ethics have taken a dirty, deadly plunge. Glorified as a world class city, Delhi's uncanny underbelly, especially among the inaccessible, cocooned rich, can often stink

The latest twist in these unfolding, grotesque, ‘aspirations of new capitalism’ narrative is the greed for quick money. Youngsters from well-off families routinely steal cars or rob, to splurge extra bucks on girlfriends or go for a swanky car ride to a high-end joint. Others are now kidnapping close friends and neighbours for ransom, often killing them in cold blood.

In most cases, they think they can get away. Sociologists argue that this phenomenon is a clear response to the new political economy of liberalisation. This reflects a new, perverse, get-rich-quick value system driven by greed, money and baser values, Hobbesian in nature, which legitimises all forms of barbarism and cruelty. Ironically, most market fundamentalists can’t even ‘see’ this method in the madness.

The 2009 official crime records show that 24 per cent of rape cases and almost 40 per cent of abductions  of women in the country happened in the capital. Even the 2011 records show no better. “Indeed, rape and kidnappings have increased in the capital,” a police officer told Hardnews.

Suman Nalwa, DCP, Women and Children Cell, Delhi Police, feels that such crimes are not restricted to any one segment of society. Often, cases of rape remain unreported because 97 per cent of the victims know the rapists.

Different layers of crime occur among different sections of society. Snatching and robberies are usually committed by those belonging to the lower classes; among middle and upper middle classes, there are miscellaneous white collar crimes. While cases of organised gangs kidnapping people have declined, there has been an increase in instances of youngsters planning to kidnap a well-off friend because of the lure of easy money. There has been a rapid rise in kidnapping cases where first-time criminals are ‘known’ to their victims. Often, first-time criminals perform crimes, after a bit of research on the Internet. In such cases, the victims are usually murdered since they can identify their kidnappers.

Indeed, not only the skyline, the bloated underbelly of this fast expanding, exploding, belligerent, impersonal city of the rich and powerful, connected by thousands of macho, aggressive SUVs from across the borders, with unaccounted wealth floating endlessly in its fragmented layers, is also changing rapidly. The crime scene is only a cracked mirror of the real face of this schizophrenic city.

“Mixing of sewage and drinking water in the Delhi Jal Board pipelines is symbolic of the true underbelly of this city,” says Amod Kanth, ex-DCP of Delhi Police and currently a social activist. This largest-growing megalopolis is a strange mix of rural turning into urban with affluent colonies flourishing while surrounded by medieval urban villages with their orthodox moral codes. A vast swathe of this city is unorganised, unplanned, neglected and left to fend for itself, like the sewage drain, called the Yamuna river, which flows in stasis within it. Even historically, it has been built and destroyed almost a dozen times in the last 1,000 years. “It has been prone to crime. It is not a law-abiding city. There is a certain aggression attached to this city,” Kanth says.

“The areas in Delhi where crimes like rape, snatching and robberies are concentrated are North-east Delhi, South-west Delhi and far-flung, backward areas in the North-west like Narela. In these areas, the police avoid filing reports. Because the population is lower class, they have no voice. Smaller crimes like snatching and robberies often go un-reported,” says a retired police officer.

The poor have always been treated shabbily in the capital. The rich and the upper middle class, direct beneficiaries of the new economic policies, care two hoots. It comes as no surprise that all the poor, homeless people and beggars were rounded up and thrown out in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Their houses were demolished, and they were forcibly removed from the public gaze, to showcase the beauty of this ‘garden city’. Even during the cold wave in winter, hundreds of homeless and poor are left to die in the open, despite judicial instructions. Even worse, slums were razed to make way for glitzy malls like the ones in Saket and Vasant Kunj. “On an average, just 25 per cent of the people have been resettled and rehabilitated since 2000,” says social activist Dunu Roy.

The poor have always been treated shabbily in the capital. The rich and the upper middle class, direct beneficiaries of the new economic policies, care two hoots.

If one leaves the posh 30 per cent of the localities, the rest of the capital seems to be a labyrinth of unplanned development amidst striking disparity. The city has the highest number of migrants trickling in, most of whom are called ‘unskilled’ labour. “The smarter of the poor get into land-grabbing while the poorest of the poor become homeless,” says Kanth.

One can find them on the pavements all across the city. “On an average, in a year, there are at least 3,000 unidentified dead bodies. My research shows that 80 per cent of them are working people. They are not beggars,” says Kanth. “It is sad to see how these people who actually build the city are pushed to the margins.”

He believes that it is stark deprivation, and the partisan nature of the State, which pushes ordinary people to unlawful activities. “Many of the homeless get into crime, drugs and so on, and slowly they descend into nothingness,” argues Kanth.

 “A lot of unlawful activities are done by drug addicts. We have now started to send them for rehabilitation programmes,” said a police officer at New Delhi Railway Station. “The women usually get into prostitution when there are no other means of survival. Prostitution is common here,” says the attendant of a night shelter in Nizamuddin.

Not just women, even young boys are brought from states  as housekeepers and waiters in seedy hotels. Many of them are forcibly pushed into small scale service industries where they work long hours on a pittance with no safety nets. Several take recourse to crime after getting into drug addiction or biting the bait of earning quick bucks and making it big. “Most children come from a background where they hate the rich,” said Kripi, a counsellor at SPYM, a rehabilitation centre for juveniles.

'The ones trafficked from Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are usually forced into prostitution'

Recently, in a shocking incident, a young boy stabbed three women to death in Jahangirpuri after being shamed by one of them in public. The matter involved a petty Rs 50 which the boy had borrowed from a woman. Reports said he took the loan to give to his mother as his salary from the factory. He not only killed her, but also stabbed two other women who tried to rescue her.

Many others are falling in to the lethal trap of drugs. Like the boy whom this reporter met in the dark alleys of Nizamuddin. “What do you want? Smack, marijuana?” he asked, as he sniffed a brown liquid from a foil. “I only target cars of rich people,” he said. Homeless, he had ran away from his home in Samastipur in Bihar. He admitted being involved in stealing wallets and other goods from cars.

“It is an organised racket. This thak-thak gang,” said a lawyer who deals with cases under the Juvenile Justice Act. They knock on the doors/windows of cars to distract the driver. Other members of the gang, meanwhile, escape with cell phones or laptops near the front seat. “They are so trained that they even hide their names,” said the lawyer. “I have seen a young girl being caught a couple of times under different names.”

Interestingly, often, when a child is caught, a ‘big shot lawyer’ arrives and gets him/her bail within hours. This suggests an organised network/mafia which ‘uses’ these children. “It seems their families are also involved,” said a child rights activist.

Most of the children and adults are Tamilians living in areas like the sprawling Dakshinpuri and Jal Vihar slum in south Delhi, inhabited by hardworking and resilient people, small scale entrepreneurs, low income professionals, daily wagers and maids who work in the neighbourhood. One of the high-profile victims of the ‘Thak Thak’ gang was senior journalist Harish Khare, former media adviser to the prime minister. They decamped with his laptop and mobile phone.

There was another gang of children which used to go to Sikh weddings, all dressed up, and decamp with whatever they could find with one member waiting outside in a car. They were later traced to a village in Rajghad district of Madhya Pradesh; the village was (in)famously called ‘choro ka gaon’ (village of thieves).

“Easy availability of drugs is a cause of worry,” said Kripi. “Most of these juveniles come from areas flooded with drug peddlers.” With many of them addicted to smack, they become aggressive; they don’t even realise that they are committing a heinous offence. “I was 13 and high on smack when I stabbed this man to death and threw his dead body in the park,” said Saleem, barely 15. He was put in the juvenile detention centre, and later in rehab.  He was involved in various acts of chain snatching, auto lifting and stabbing. “I got into it after I met other criminals in the slums in Seelampur,” he told this reporter. It was only after his frustrated mother got him arrested that he mended his ways. After his arrest, his father died of a heart attack.  

Sharif’s craving for drugs landed him in crime. “I started smoking marijuana when I was 10. Then I used to steal money from my mother’s shop in Rohini to buy it,” he said. With stab wounds on his hands, he narrated how he used to cut himself in desperation. “I robbed people. I stole from households, I stabbed,” he said. A resident of Jahangirpuri, his father is a property dealer. Sharif used to run a gang of juveniles. 

“Juveniles in crime, from all classes, need more attention and care since they have no sense of responsibility,” said Kripi. There are many others on the streets of the capital on the verge of falling into this trap. “Nothing has been done to improve their situation,” said Shahbaz, a counsellor with Haq Centre for Child Rights. 

“Over-exposure, especially among children of upwardly mobile classes, is leading to a spurt in crime. These children are exposed to pornography at a young age and then they try replicating it and end up assaulting girls. This is also a type of abuse. Drug addiction too has a 95 per cent chance of relapse,” explained Shahbaz.

Under peer pressure, children from well-off families are taking to crime to fund their snazzy mobile phones and fancy gadgets. “There were these four children who snatched the mobile of another friend after he refused to lend them money. All of them were in Class Xth,” said a child rights activist.

“I fool these tourists. I take them to private agents for railway tickets. On each ticket, I get a commission,” said Rameez. Barely 14, he works as a coolie at New Delhi Railway Station and manages Rs 300 -800 as commission . He said that every night, after his usual working hours, he gives the local cop Rs 200. “Paise ke mohtaaj hote hai ye policewale,” (these cops are dependant on money), he said, without a tinge of emotion.

Rameez lives alone in Seelampur. He proudly declares that he drinks whisky every night. “I caught the Poorva Express from Siwan in Bihar and came to Delhi. My parents used to beat me for drinking,” he said.

Rameez’s friends live similar lives on the railway platforms. “I live on Platform No. 6. Sometimes on the roof of the platform,” said Ankur, 14, addicted, as he pulls out a bottle of diluter from the pocket of his soiled, dirty Bermudas, and sniffs it. 

Over-exposure, especially among children of upwardly mobile classes, is leading to a spurt in crime. these children are exposed to pornography at a young age; they end up raping or assaulting girls

“I intoxicate myself every day. I buy three bottles from the stationery shop just across the road in Paharganj,” he said. Much of his day's earnings from selling used mineral water pet bottles go towards this instant high. Easily available, this fluid costs around Rs 30.

 “A wake-up call for these kids comes only when they are trapped or caught,” said Kripi. “Intervention should be done at an early stage,” argued Shahbaz. “Most of these children are disconnected from their families.” “Their families and the schooling system must take into account all these factors,” said Dr Rajesh of SPYM.

Saleem and Sharif told this reporter that it was only after they were involved in a heinous offence that the police caught them. “I was caught three times earlier, but I always used to bribe my way out,” said Saleem.

“Police actually become a part of the network; they just let it be till a bigger crime happens,” says Dr Rajesh. “The police feel that by not registering cases of the Juvenile Justice Act they have solved the crime. Thousands of kids have become unruly,” said Kanth.

“In a city which has huge disparities, a growing population, migration and unemployment, the lure of either making quick money or demanding a denied opportunity from the system, is the larger context within which diverse crimes happen,” said a senior cop.

Despite the obvious signs, the system is refusing to see, understand, or find solutions to this deadly writing on the wall. Indeed, the spiral of crime and criminalisation, lust for money and perversity, murder and barbarism, starts from the top. And, like an epidemic, penetrates the intestines of the big beautiful city, like basic instinct.

With inputs by Aakshi Magazine



“The policemen took me away and kept me in detention for one day for no reason. They were saying I am a thief,” says Shankar (name changed), a rag-picker. He lives in Hanuman Basti, a slum in the upmarket government officers’ colony of RK Puram in South Delhi. Life is difficult for these people who clean the streets, and every morning, with trained professionalism, pick up garbage from the households so that people can walk and breathe sans the stench of rotting trash.

However, they complain that the residents of the colony don’t even recognise their existence, even as the police brands them thieves and picks them up routinely. “Be it August 15 or January 26, Independence Day or Republic Day, one among us is picked up; someone among us is taken to the police station to brighten the records of the local police officer,” says Shankar. He is one of the 4,000-odd people who inhabit this slum, most of them making a living out of trash.

Interestingly, the slum inhabitants are mostly Kashyap Rajput Hindus; 90 per cent of the people are from Bijnor, a district in western UP. However, most migrants in capital — ironically classified as ‘unskilled’ — come from Poorvanchal, Bihar, Jharkhand or Bengal.

“I left Bijnor 18 years ago when work dried up,” says Sunil. He hails from Raipur, a village in Bijnor. A landless peasant, he worked as a daily wager on farms. Sunil is one among nine contractors or ‘godown owners’ in this basti, most of which resembles one big trash dump.

Life for these rag-pickers begins at five in the morning when they pick up their bicycles and leave for the streets and houses which “they have bought”. “The MCD sweeper sells the houses which come under his jurisdiction to us for as much as Rs 20,000 a year,” says Sunil. “There is a mutual understanding between the MCD and these people,” says Shashi Bhushan, an activist. Even at the MCD dustbins, they have to battle the odds for they are dissuaded from dumping garbage. The MCD workers also pocket the monthly money that they charge from each household for cleaning the toilets or sweeping the floors. “We just get the garbage,” says Satya, a rag-picker from a village in Nagina Tehsil of Bijnor.

Not only this, Sunil has to pay a monthly Rs 1,000 to the police to be able to work in peace. Plus an MCD challan lands up every couple of months to make them poorer by a couple of thousand bucks. “They are not even recognised by the municipality. They are in a way outside the system,” says Bhushan.   

“We return home by afternoon and after an hour’s rest we again have to segregate and sell whatever we have got,” says Rakesh, another rag-picker. At a distance, one can see a young girl segregating plastic bottles, polythene bags, cartons, etc., from a heap of trash next to the open drain which dissects the basti. “She doesn’t go to school,” says her father.

“People who are into drugs, mostly take recourse to crime. People who work would never be criminals,” says Rakesh. “For us, the only indulgence is just a pauwa (a quarter bottle of alcohol), after a hard day’s work.” 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2012