Friday, February 19, 2010

Criminal Mind Games

For the past few days, the British media has been obsessing over Mossad’s use of fake British passports to facilitate the encounter of a Hammas leader in Dubai. The matter is now being investigated by UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency, which in turn, makes me wonder if there is also something like unserious organised crime in the UK.

Which brings me the other obsession of British media: violent crime. Today again, the honour of the front page mention on the BBC news page goes to a stabbing in Bradford.

When I first came to London, reading the papers made me feel that I had somehow landed in the crime capital of the world. I would walk around expecting to be violently stabbed, knifed, bludgeoned, gunned, or murdered in some other equally ghoulish way. (By the way, this wonderful vocabulary on different forms of violence was a new phenomenon too.) There were neighbourhoods I would refuse to enter and the very sight of hoodies would set me scurrying in the opposite direction.

But then I found myself thinking: hey, I come from Mumbai – a tiny island city with 18 million mostly poor and desperate people and the most ineffective police force on earth. But I happily skipped about town there without a care. So why all this terror here in London? A little research proved enlightening. For 2007, a staggering 32,318 murder cases were reported in India. In comparison, a piddling 648 homicide cases were reported in all of England and Wales for 2008-09. Small change, I'd say. Clearly, I was far safer in London than in Mumbai. So why was the media so gleefully attentive to every crime?

Then, I figured it out. It is the relative rarity of violent crime that makes its reportage so sensational and pervasive in the British media. Every violent crime gets rarefied front page mention. In turn, you land up feeling that you are surrounded by crime. By contrast, in India violence is so commonplace that only a lucky few incidents even reach the far left corner of the fourth page. By corollary, the newspaper reader is lulled into a false sense of security. Aal izz well, as Aamir Khan would say.


Girish Shahane said...

Apparently there were more murders in episodes of Inspector Morse than in all of Oxford during the years the series aired.

globalbabble said...

Proves my point, doesn't it :-)

Jana said...

A friend of mine came to Mumbai from New York and was mystified that there weren't more violent crimes, a revolution and that sort of thing. I'm not sure what the figures would show if we looked at proportions in these cities, rather than bare statistics. Maybe our media has just tired of reporting things like crimes and readers have become pros at ignoring what does get reported. Unless of course there's a Bollywood star to help make the point.

globalbabble said...

Hi Jana,

I tried looking for city-wise break-up for crimes - I don't think they have been put out there in the public domain. All I could find was the total number of FIR's lodged in Mumbai - and Shailesh Gandhi had to use the RTI to get that info.

The National Crime Research Bureau website is funny. There is no information updates since 2007. (Ironically, Manmohan Singh and Prez Lady's faces greet you on the front page).