Anyone who has read the inside pages of Indian newspapers over the past few decades will be familiar with the recurring stories of violent urban crime. Some concern 'crimes of passion' and use a peculiar Indian English journalistic vocabulary, involving such terms as 'eve-teasing', 'absconding' and 'paramour'. Some of the stories have to do with incest or close family relationships - say, between father-in-law and daughter-in-law - while others are tales of paedophilia and 'child molestation'. Another popular subject of which Delhi residents will be well aware are the crimes committed by the 'criminal castes', often linked in the neocolonial imagination of the city's bourgeoisie to the villages and smallholdings that are gradually being asphyxiated by Delhi's expansion. It's been an urban legend since the 1990s that people are being bludgeoned to death in their houses with blunt instruments even though they haven't resisted; and that the intruders show their contempt for their victims by defecating in their living-rooms. Class elements are present in the reporting of crimes of passion, which the elite naturally associate with slum-dwellers and squatters: the second type of crime involves something approaching class warfare.
LRB 6 November 2008 | PDF Download