This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of crimes that shook the entire nation in 2021.
This article has been published by Abanti Bose.
A crime is an act, omission, or occurrence that is banned by law and, if committed, results in prosecution by and in the name of the state rather than an individual person. Both crime and society co-exist, and their relationships are intertwined. Crime is always committed in society since it is the society that determines whether or not a given act is a crime. And when there is society, there remains a likelihood of crime. As we stand at the end of the current year, it is evident for us to look back at some shameful crimes that have taken place over this year and have made us realize where we stand as a nation with respect to crimes. Crimes ranging from murder, rape, robbery to that of caste-discriminations, animal cruelty, murders in the influence of superstition have all seen the light of the day in 2021. The present article is dedicated to the same.
Crimes that shook the entire nation in 2021
Some of the crimes that shook the entire nation in 2021 have been highlighted hereunder. Among the crimes discussed, some have not taken place in this year but have received media highlights this very year owing to an incomplete investigation, judicial crunch, or increase in general awareness of the country’s citizens.
- Vismaya Nair suicide case
According to the police charge sheet submitted in the Court of First Class Judicial Magistrate in Sasthamcotta, Vismaya V Nair, a 24-year-old woman was discovered dead by suicide at her husband’s home in Kollam on June 21, 2021, as a result of dowry harassment. Kiran Kumar, a former Assistant Motor Vehicles Inspector and the husband of the deceased was facing dowry harassment and domestic abuse charges. The couple had married on 31st May 2020. The investigating team has submitted witness testimony, material evidence, and digital evidence from 102 people. The case shook the public’s conscience, with well-known figures decrying the dowry threat. Vismaya’s residence had been visited by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan who had conducted a day-long dowry fast. The voice messages and photographs that the victim shared to her family over WhatsApp about the abuse she was subjected to by her husband for dowry served as the charge sheet’s main digital evidence. She allegedly sustained many injuries as a result of her husband and his family’s physical assault in response to their discontent with the “gifts” presented to them during the wedding. Early reports suggested suicide, but it was eventually determined to be a homicide.
Dowry harassment and death
The offences harming the human body are covered in Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. “If a woman dies within the seven years of marriage by any burns or any other bodily injury, or it is revealed that before her marriage she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any other relative of the husband in connection with the demand for the dowry, then the woman’s death will be considered a dowry death,” says Section 304B of the aforementioned Code. Dowry death carries a minimum punishment of seven years in jail and a maximum term of life in prison.
The crime statistics around dowry paint an ominous story. In the previous five years, the state police’s criminal records office has registered 66 incidents of dowry-related killings and nearly 15,000 complaints of harassment by husbands/relatives. According to the state women’s commission, approximately 1,100 incidents of dowry-related harassment have been brought to their notice since 2010, with the capital district of Thiruvananthapuram accounting for nearly half of the cases. According to the data, the state’s southern areas are famous for spreading unlawful activity.
Vismaya’s killing provoked indignation across Kerala, reigniting debate over the prevalence of dowry-related harassment, abuse, and death. All political leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, have sharply criticized the event and issued a statement pushing for measures to eliminate the dowry system from society.
Observation by the Kerala High Court
Kiran Kumar S, the husband of Vismaya V Nair, was denied bail in the dowry death case against him by the Kerala High Court on October 8, 2021. Justice MR Anitha dismissed the bail application, stating that the petitioner has been charged with a serious crime of dowry killing, which is a societal evil. The Court stated that a fair trial is in the public interest and that it would trump the accused’s personal interest in his liberty. The Court stated in the ruling that Vismaya, who was 24 years old at the time of her marriage to the applicant, an assistant motor vehicle inspector, had to commit suicide within 13 months of their marriage owing to cruelty and harassment in the demand for dowry. The Court also emphasized the severity of the sentence if convicted, as well as the plausible probability of influencing witnesses if released on bond.
- The Koodathai serial murder case
The Koodathayi Cyanide Murders were a series of crimes that took place in Koodathayi, Kozhikode district, Kerala, India. The crimes were examined in late 2019 and involved the murders of six persons over a 14-year period. The murders were some of the criminal incidents in Kerala that received a lot of media and public attention, finally leading to Jolly Joseph’s arrest. The case also sparked a discussion on the legal and moral ramifications. Jolly Joseph, 47, is the main suspect in the assassination of six members of the family she married into. Annamma Thomas, the accused’s mother-in-law, died in 2002 after drinking mutton soup. Annamma’s spouse, Tom Thomas, died in 2008 after falling and swooning. Jolly Joseph, their daughter-in-law, was supposedly present on both occasions. Jolly’s then-husband, Roy Thomas, died in 2011 after devouring rice and curry. He was discovered dead in a closed restroom from the inside. Because the post-mortem examination revealed evidence of poison, the cause of death was deemed to be suicide owing to financial difficulties. Mathew Manjayadil, Roy Thomas’ maternal uncle, demanded a post-mortem report and an investigation into Roy’s death. Jolly reportedly offered him poison-laced scotch in 2014, Mathew swooned and died. Roy Thomas’ brother, Rojo Thomas, was the one who reported the six unnatural deaths to the authorities, which led to the arrest of Jolly Joseph. Jolly admitted to using cyanide to kill the six victims after her arrest in October 2019. M. S. Mathew and Praji Kumar, who have also been detained, are accused of helping her get the cyanide.
Present scenario and status
In August 2020, the Kerala High Court granted bail to Jolly Joseph, but the Kerala Government had appealed before the Supreme Court. The Hon’ble High Court had granted Joseph bail since the allegation against her was based on an extrajudicial confession given after so many years of alleged killings. On February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court halted the release of Jolly Amma Joseph, who was accused of murdering six members of her family over a 14-year period. A bench of Judges Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran issued the order to stay her release.
- Murder of a hapless dog Bruno in Kerala
Bruno, a labrador, was killed by three men on Adimalathura beach, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. The men had beaten the dog with a stout stick, then hung it on the boat with a fishing line and rained blows on it until it appeared to be dead. According to police, the accused has had previous spats with the dog’s owner, Christuraj, at least once over the dog peeing near their vessel. unclear where Christuraj was when the dog was beaten. A witness recorded the event on his phone and afterwards shared it with Christuraj, who published it on social media. According to local sources, the police did not initially respond to his complaint. An FIR was filed when the Thiruvananthapuram Chapter of People for Animals intervened.
The video sparked widespread indignation. Justice Jayasankaran Nambiar, outraged at Bruno’s inhumane treatment, issued a letter to Chief Justice S Manikumar of Kerala High Court on 1st July 2021. After that, the letter was handled as a suo motu petition. On the 2nd of July 2021, a day after taking suo motu cognizance of the barbaric killing of a dog called Bruno in Thiruvananthapuram, the Kerala High Court decided to rename the case in Bruno’s honor. In an attempt to pay “appropriate respect to the wretched dog that succumbed to acts of human brutality, and disturbed by which incident we had launched these proceedings,” a bench of Justice A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Gopinath P. stated, thereby renaming the case as ‘In Re: Bruno’.
Animal cruelty in India
All acts of cruelty, such as murdering, poisoning, maiming, or rendering animals worthless, are punishable under Sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Further, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is another such legislation that specifically focuses on curbing cruelty against animals. The aforementioned laws were created to protect animals from undue pain and suffering, and similar laws are still being enacted in response to changing conditions. In addition to particular regulations, generic ideas such as tort law, constitutional law, and so on provide further safeguards for animals.
In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A.Nagaraja & Others (2014), the Supreme Court recognized five freedoms as inherent in all animals and treated them as akin to the rights guaranteed to citizens of our country under Part III of our Constitution. As a result, the State cannot use a lack of funds as an excuse to avoid fulfilling its constitutional obligations.
In Telangana, a monkey was hanged and beaten to death, in Ludhiana, a street dog was beaten, tied to a scooter, and then thrown from the second floor of a building, in Kolkata, sixteen pups were poisoned by nursing students, in Kerala, a pregnant elephant died after eating fruit laced with firecrackers. All these are real cases and just five out of an approximate 2,400 recorded cases of crimes against animals compiled by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations and All Creatures Great and Small in a report titled ‘In Their Own Right: Calling for Parity in Law for Animal Victims of Crimes’. The fact that these offences are not recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau is crucial. Their yearly report on crime in India includes statistics on violent crimes, assaults, theft, sexual abuse of women and children, and murders across the country, broken down by state and district. It’s a crucial policy document for India’s crime-fighting efforts, yet it makes no mention of animal victims.
Kerala High Court’s observation
The Kerala High Court issued the following guidelines to be followed by the Kerala state government while hearing the case of in Re: Bruno:
- The State’s veterinary clinics and related infrastructure facilities are in desperate need of upgrading, and the State Government must take action to modernize these facilities. The State Government must also issue directives to the local self-government institutions in the state, namely the Corporations, Municipalities, and Panchayats, to comply with their respective statutory obligations in terms of providing animal shelters, dog pounds, and cattle sheds, and to ensure that such compliance is not hampered by a lack of funds.
- The State Government should investigate the potential of promoting and hosting animal adoption camps at least three times a year throughout the State, where people can be urged to adopt animals who have been abandoned by their owners and are wandering the streets looking for food and shelter. It must be ensured that adoptions at such camps are always in the best interests of the animals involved.
- The State Government will also look into the possibility of entrusting District Administrations across the state with the authority to investigate complaints of animal rights violations and cruelty to animals, as well as cases where people are denied the right to keep pets of their choice in their apartments.
- Gudiya rape case
A 16-year-old Class 10 student from Shimla’s Kotkhai region left school on the afternoon of July 4, 2017, but never returned home. Her brother and other schoolmates who typically accompanied her to her house remained back due to a school sports event, so she opted to go to her house alone, a 1.5-hour journey that entailed crossing through a forest. Her corpse was discovered two days later in a woodland ditch, with her clothing, an empty wine bottle, and other objects scattered about her. Her death was caused by the cumulative impact of “homicidal smothering and manual strangling in a case of recent forced penetrative sexual assault,” according to an autopsy. She was raped and killed, in layman’s terms. The act sparked widespread outrage and demonstrations in Kotkhai, Shimla, and other regions of the hill state, where such crimes are uncommon.
A week later, a state police special investigation team commanded by IG Zahur H Zaidi arrested six males from the region on allegations of raping and murdering the youngster. On the night of July 18 and 19, one of the suspects, Suraj Singh, a 29-year-old Nepalese labourer, died while being interrogated at the Kotkhai police station. He was allegedly slain by one of his co-accused, according to the police. The death in custody exacerbated public protests and concerns about an unfair inquiry, resulting in a riot the next morning in Kotkhai and Theog. The Kotkhai police station was set on fire, and police cars were vandalized. The Himachal Pradesh High Court directed the CBI to take up the case the same day. On April 13th, 2018, CBI had arrested woodcutter Anil Kumar alias Nilu in the Kotkhai minor rape and murder case followed by which the CBI had submitted a charge sheet in court against Nilu, the lone accused in the case on 29th May 2020. On 15th October 2020, family members of Gudiya filed a petition in the High Court seeking re-investigation into the case.
On the 18th of June 2021, a local court convicted Anil alias Nilu guilty in the four-year-old Gudiya rape and murder case and sentenced him to life in jail. Kumar, a Chirani (woodcutter), was found guilty of rape and murder of the juvenile girl under Sections 376 (2)(i), 376 (A), and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as Section 4 of the POCSO Act. Rajiv Bharadwaj, the Shimla District and Sessions Judge who is also a Special Judge of the CBI Court, stated that 12 of the 14 critical pieces of evidence submitted by the CBI were determined to be against Nilu. The conviction was based on the fact that DNA from Nilu’s blood sample matched with semen found on the victim’s private parts and clothes, and soil samples from the victim’s clothes matched with soil samples obtained from the place where the deceased’s corpse was discovered. In forensic investigations, the bite marks on the deceased’s body were also discovered to be Nilu’s. There were 59 witnesses in all, including students, instructors from Gudiya’s school, locals, medics, forensic specialists, police, and eyewitnesses who had seen the accused in the area before and after the incident. The judge noted that the crime was undertaken on the spur of the moment, with Nilu making up his mind to rape and kill the girl when she was walking home from school via a wooded corridor.
- Subir Chaki murder case
Subir Chaki, the Managing Director of Kilburn Engineering, and his driver were discovered dead in the Gariahat neighbourhood of South Kolkata on October 18, 2021, according to authorities. On the night of October 17th, Chaki (61) and his driver Rabin Mondal (65) were discovered with numerous knife wounds to their necks, knees, and backs in an ancient building owned by the businessman. While Chaki’s body was discovered in a pool of blood on the second floor of his house, his driver’s body was discovered on the first level of the Kakulia Road building. Chaki, who had purchased an apartment in New Town and lived there with his wife and mother, planned to sell the building where he was killed, according to authorities.
Vicky Halder and his suspected partner Subhankar Mondal had been detained in Mumbai in connection with the murders of Subir Chaki and his driver Rabin Mondal. Vicky, 26, and Subhankar, 35, were detained at the ground-floor parking lot of a 48-story building under construction on St Xavier’s Street in Parel East, Mumbai on October 27, 2021, according to police. The two, who were purportedly employed as construction site guards, were arrested and brought before a Mumbai court. The two had been placed on travel remand until November 3, and the accused appeared at Alipore court, Kolkata on November 2, 2021. Vicky had spent a few months working as a guard in Mumbai a year earlier, when he had picked both English and Hindi, according to investigators.
Subhankar, from Basanti in South 24-Parganas, met Vicky for the first time at a construction site on Fern Road, where he worked as a supervisor, according to preliminary findings. Subhankar was a manual laborer. Vicky and Subhankar walked down from Fern Road to the Kankulia Road residence on the afternoon of October 17. They were joined by three additional Diamond Harbour youngsters, who police said had taken the train to Ballygunge station and then walked to Kankulia Road. Vicky’s mother, Mithu, is said to have pledged money to the three Diamond Harbour teenagers who were battling to survive the epidemic. Mithu waited outside as the party of five entered the residence, where Subir was waiting to meet a potential buyer. All six suspects have been arrested and are presently in custody.
The increasing gap between rich and poor : main reason behind rise in crime in India
Since the beginning of economics literature on crime, the link between income inequality and the prevalence of crime has been a key topic of research. Crime rates depend on the risks and penalties associated with apprehension and also on the difference between the potential gains from crime and the associated opportunity cost. Because the characteristics of victims are dependent not only on their relative wealth but also on the distribution of security services across communities and social classes, the observation that most crimes are committed by the poor on the poor does not necessarily imply that the economic theory is invalid. Indeed, crime may be more widespread in impoverished communities as a result of the state’s allocation of police services favouring wealthy areas or because poor people accept lower levels of protection as a normal good. According to the strain theory, the relative success of others will induce frustration among the unsuccessful group resulting in violent crimes. If one analyses the murder of an influential man like Subir Chaki by his laborers, it is evident that the same has been done with the intention to rob him because the latter wants financial support to survive. Such vast inequality existing in Indian society should be addressed with urgency to curb rising crimes in the society.
- Bulandshahr Dalit women rape case
A little Dalit girl was burned alive in broad daylight on November 17, 2020, in Bulandshahr’s Sidh Nagla hamlet. The girl was reportedly raped by Harish alias Chainta in August and has since been pressured by his colleagues to drop her accusation. In the adjacent sugarcane fields of her house, the victim used to assist her family with farm chores. The victim was picked up from a sugarcane mill on August 14 after a dispute about the functioning of a machine by one Kajal of Dhamni, a hamlet near Sidh Nagla. Her father discovered her semi-conscious in the adjacent orchards over 24 hours later, when she said she had been raped by Harish, who worked in the orchards. Harish and the victim’s family had never had a prior feud, according to the family.
Harish/Chainta was arrested on August 15 after the victim’s father had filed a complaint with the Jahangirabad police station under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code,1860, as well as sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The arrest of the two co-accused, Sanjay and his wife, both Harish relatives, was halted by the police. Since August, claimed accomplices of the accused from the victim’s village have been threatening her, attempting to get her to drop the complaint. They informed the victim as she went to work in the fields.
Following the attack, there was institutional indifference, which is common among India’s marginalized people, notably Dalits. Before the victim’s relatives could file a complaint, the cops took her to a nearby hospital. The victim was not given the medical treatment she needed at the Jahangirabad hospital. An ambulance had moved the wounded to another hospital in Bulandshahr after a 45-minute delay. She was referred to a Delhi hospital from there. She died of her injuries at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi. In a video taken in a hospital, the victim had named the co-accused Sanjay and Kajal who was also involved in raping her. Unlike in the wake of the Hathras gang rape and murder, the cruelty meted out to this young Dalit girl has largely gone unnoticed. “No one arrived when my sister was assaulted,” told the older sister of the victim to The Wire. The case remains ongoing as there was no conclusion of the investigation that was carried out and the family of the Dalit girl remains in shadow to date.
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution and it’s losing the essence
The Constituent Assembly had decided to guarantee social, political, and economic justice for all under the Indian Constitution. For this purpose, the Constitution contains many measures aimed at protecting and improving the status of scheduled castes. Social justice is influenced by the Constitution in two ways. First, it gives men and women equal rights through “fundamental rights” that may be enforced in court. Second, it instructs the states to execute “state policy directives.” Despite the fact that they are not enforceable in Indian courts, they have been considered to be important in the country’s administration and hence have moral and political worth. As a basic right, the Indian Constitution guarantees equality to all Indian people. Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, caste, sex, or place of birth is prohibited under Article 15 of the Constitution. Occasionally, though, we are presented with cases of caste prejudice, with men and women from certain tribes and castes being lynched or violently raped. The country’s social environment is dominated by hate crimes against religious minorities. Although the Bulandshahr rape case had taken place in the year 2020, similar incidents were noticed in some regions this year as well. They possibly didn’t cross the media radar and therefore remained known only in bits and pieces. As India celebrated its 74th independence this year, it is notable to mention that it’s time our country realizes whether it is actually independent of social evils or not.
- Rajaram Khadari murder case
On February 20, 2021, Abhay Ohri, a tribal doctor and activist in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, received a call from a volunteer of Jay Adivasi Yuva Shakti, a tribal youth organization that he had leads in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, informing him of his 27-year-old colleague Rajaram Khadari’s death in a state hospital. Rajaram’s body was dyed with kumkum, a crimson turmeric powder used in religious ceremonies. Lacchas, or ritual yellow threads, were also knotted throughout the body. Rajaram’s limbs and legs had the impression of being shackled. Many injuries from sharp items were also visible. Even after he died, his body continued to bleed.
Rajaram’s parents, Thwari Bai and Kanhaiya Lal Khadari had eight daughters and one son, Vikram, who is 26 years old, in addition to Rajaram. While Santosh is the oldest daughter, Tulsi Palasia, their middle daughter, is the family’s most powerful figure. She is 40 years old. Tulsi and her husband, Radhey Shyam, reside in Dharad village, around 35 kilometers from Thikariya. She worked as a Bhopa, a witch doctor, for the past three or four years, according to the police. Tulsi claimed that her 17-year-old son has magical abilities and was an incarnation of Sheshnag, the serpent king. The Hindu deity Vishnu is often depicted resting on Sheshnag. Tulsi’s whole family was participating in the practice, including her children Maya and another young boy, as well as Rahul, her brother-in-law’s child.
In the Bhil tribal culture, Bhopas are historically priest-singers. They perform in front of a phad, which is a large piece of fabric that acts as a portable temple and contains numerous mantras and local deity folk tales. When villages ask bhopas to perform at times of sickness or disaster, they bring this phad with them. When the chanting ladies were requested to move aside by the policemen in the present case, they threatened to curse them, claiming to be representations of the Hindu goddess Durga. The room was so thick with incense smoke that it was difficult to see anything. Blood, smashed coconuts, lemon, kumkum, and tonnes of burned incense and wood were all there. Maya, Tulsi’s daughter, was sitting on the tummy of Adarsh, Seema and Rajaram’s two-year-old son, in one corner of the room. Maya had her fingers in Adarsh’s mouth with one hand and a sword in the other. Adarsh has already passed away. Tulsi sat on Thwari’s stomach in another corner, suffocating her at the neck and tugging her hair. Thwari’s sword wounds were causing her to bleed heavily. Vikram’s injured children were crying in terror in a third corner, while other family members held them. Maya and Tulsi clung to the bodies of Adarsh and Thwari so firmly that it took three to five police officers to remove them when the scene was broken up.
The ladies in the room said that Seema had possessed Rajaram as she was a witch and that if the witch was murdered, Rajaram would resurrect. That’s when the cops began looking for Seema. She was discovered in a room close to a livestock shed on the other side of the road. She was hurt, bleeding, and unconscious, yet she was still alive. By that time, her parents had arrived and had taken her to the hospital. A two-rupee penny was discovered wedged in her throat, preventing her from speaking. Tulsi and her children, including Maya and the boy she claimed to be the manifestation of Sheshnag, were among those detained and accused of murder. Rajaram’s younger siblings, Vikram and Sagar, were also apprehended.
Tulsi and her family were attempting to destroy the ghost that they felt had possessed Seema in the ceremony, according to the police inquiry. They thought the ghost had left Seema’s body and seized her husband, Rajaram when she fell unconscious. They believed it had possessed Adarsh after he died. They assumed it had entered Thwari’s body after Adarsh died. Seema learned that her husband and child had passed away eight days after the tragedy. To get the penny out of her throat, she had to go through many surgeries. She currently shares a home with her mother and father, which she purchased with Rajaram.
India remains a socially under-developed country
Superstition remains the greatest hindrance to social development in India. Crimes from superstition remain thriving in developing India as people slowly lose logical reasoning as the percentage of detrimental influence increases. Over the last decade, witchcraft has claimed the lives of hundreds of people. But, is it better to have distinct laws like the anti-witchcraft laws in states such as Jharkhand, to punish the harm caused by witchcraft as witchcraft, or should it be controlled as much as possible by current laws and the Indian Penal Code, 1860? These activities frequently entail inflicting bodily injury on a person, as well as psychological torment and, in some cases, actions that result in death. The Code of 1860 already covers the majority of these risks. Whether hunting witches or collective spirits, murder should be murder. No matter what the reason, forcibly evicting someone from their home or doing anything to their body without their consent is illegal. However, when we portray the law as limiting superstition rather than concentrating on the damage in question, we provide a moral explanation of why conduct is wrong that is deceptive.
There is larger cultural work to be done over spreading science. However, the focus of legislation should be on highlighting the moral harm caused by specific actions. We’re having an odd argument where some people are hesitant to act because someone claims to be a godman. Others want to respond by making it illegal to pretend to be a godman. All we have to understand is that no matter who you are or what others believe if you commit a crime, you are not above the law.
The police, the prosecution, the courts, and the prisons cannot prevent and regulate crime on their own, they need the full collaboration and coordination of all members of society. Great efforts must be taken to enhance public awareness and encourage people’s participation in all aspects of the crime issue if successful crime prevention is to be achieved.
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