Expert Comment

Brewing crime tsunami

The national outrage over the vicious gangrape of a 23-year-old paramedic student in a bus coursing through the national capital, and her subsequent death in a Singapore hospital on December 29, will serve no purpose unless the root causes of the pervasive culture of misogyny and degradation of women are deeply analysed. We need to identify the prime reasons behind the crime wave (including gender crimes) sweeping the nation. A thorough diagnosis is the precondition of short, medium and long-term strategies to make women feel safe in India.

Latest (2011) census and employment statistical data indicate that overall crime (mostly theft) is likely to increase by 300-500 percent in 2018. The data indicates that more than 200 million young people will be entering the working age group by 2018 (in addition to 112 million already unemployed). This number, equivalent to two-thirds of the entire population of Europe, will enter an economy in which too few new jobs are being created. This is not to say that the majority of unemployed youth will take to crime, but there are established correlations and adequate historical proof globally, linking rising crime to unemployment.

If to rising unemployment, we add a skewed sex ratio, we are staring at a looming nati-onal crisis which could make India the most dangerous place on earth for women. The police and the judiciary cannot be blamed for every-thing, as they are only dealing with the first ripples of a crime tsunami that is likely to sweep the country between 2018 and 2020.

To a substantial extent, the current upsurge in crime can be directly traced to lack of directional inputs from the PMO (prime minister’s office) and a non-serious Planning Commission which failed to act, despite being aware in 2004 that a “demographic supernova’’ had exploded in the 7-11 age group. Despite this, the Congress-led UPA-II government has dismally failed to initiate a genuine mass employment generation project over the past eight years even though it was fully aware that an additional 200 million youth are likely to enter the national work force by 2018.

In this connection it needs to be pointed out that MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and AADHAR (national unique identity scheme) do not — and cannot — create nearly sufficient productive capacity and employment. These are essentially hand-out schemes and therefore unsustainable. Even the much trumpeted FDI (foreign direct investment) in retail will generate only 10 million jobs at best. Therefore the government needs to move quickly and clear large infrastructure projects, preferably agriculture/irrigation projects in rural India and construction projects in cities to provide productive employment for the huge number of youth entering the work force.

The problem is also snowballing because the UPA government which pays lip sevice to liberalisation and deregulation of the Indian economy, has failed to repeal  antiquated, hare-brained labour laws which encourage capital-intensive (rather than labour-intensive) projects, and have led to the curious phenomenon of jobless growth.

A prime cause of the disintegration of value systems in Indian society and rising crime against women is the country’s rapidly disintegrating education system. In particular, almost surreptitiously a severe bottleneck is strangulating Indian education, throwing children into the street and creating idle minds which are the devil’s workshop. According to the 10th Planning Commission Report 2007-08, there’s a national shortage of 500,000 secondary schools. Most children are dropping out of school after class V, not because they want to but because there are no schools to go to. All such dropouts are essentially unemployable.

This lack of secondary education capacity is compounded by very poor teacher quality. Shockingly, a mere 46 percent of primary teachers in India have studied beyond class XII. In Bihar, only 21 percent have studied beyond class X. Moreover the ‘literacy centric’ philosophy of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (‘education for all’) national programme has lowered the status of the teacher, with the consequence that the worst qualified people have landed the most important jobs in the country (i.e. teaching children). It needs to be clearly understood that no amount of computerisation can replace the teacher in the classroom. Only qualified and committed teachers supported by enlightened parents can embed the concept of gender equality in the minds of the country’s children.

Therefore making the teaching profession attractive as a career choice is the best way of fixing the ills of the Indian economy. The top priority of governments at the Centre and in the states should be to build more secondary schools and provide incentives to attract the country’s best graduates to sign up as teachers in schools and colleges.

The only alternative to initiating a major school — especially secondary schools — construction programme is for government to increase the size of India’s land based internal security forces by a factor of three-five times, to effectively police and control the country’s 312 million jobless youth. We don’t have the luxury of time on our side. 2018 is just five years away.

(Ashish Puntambekar is a Mumbai-based corporate planner and project designer of the Indian Education Megaproject)