Killers roam free without forensics

Why do the police rely so much on CCTV and mobile phone location to solve crimes? These methods are useful, sure, but what about forensics?

A serial killer was caught in Patiala earlier this year. He had been killing since 1995. Despite being a suspect in two of the murders early on, he was never charged because there was no evidence. He continued to kill. Finally, it was CCTV evidence which helped the police nab him. Without this, he would still be killing.

Before the popularity of CCTVs and the advent of mobile phones, the Indian police usually relied on eye-witnesses and confessions (mostly coerced). Not much has changed. Eye-witness accounts have been replaced by camera footage and mobile phone locations. And as for coerced confessions, this is still the norm. But even the not-so-smart criminals ditch their cell phones and try and avoid CCTV cameras while committing crimes.

If the police went the whole hog in collecting forensic evidence, the situation would be different. But this happens only in important cases. Even post-mortems of victims are done in a hurry by untrained people – in most of the cases.

The details of the Patiala case are unknown to the public but an episode of Crime Patrol gives us some idea. Sure, this reality crime show tends to embellish the truth to hide the real identities of people, but the major features of the crime are usually authentic. In the imitation of the Patiala serial killer case, it is revealed that the murderer was known to all the victims…and yet the police could not find evidence of the suspect’s involvement. How could they, without forensics being collected at the scene?

shoe-print-3482282_640Evidence like clothes fibres, fingerprints, soil samples, footprints, and DNA need to be collected from a crime scene. In this case, yes, it would have been hard to find fingerprints on a  rough, semi-porous like a brick (the murder weapon used) but there are techniques to attempt to get at least a partial fingerprint. Did the investigating team even try to do this? And what about other forensic evidence? No footprints?

India’s central and state forensics labs (some state-of-the-art) are understaffed and overworked no doubt, but the question is whether crime scenes are sacrosanct and whether evidence is collected at all. Are the Inspectors who investigate crimes trained in collect evidence from crime scenes? Are the doctors who conduct autopsies on victims trained? 

We all know the answer to this question.

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Surrogacy No More

On January 1st, 70000 babies were born in India. More than any other country in the world! One more reason to rejoice that commercial surrogacy was recently banned by the Indian government. Hopefully, this will boost adoption in India.

The advocates for commercial surrogacy believe that it helps alleviate poverty. But the truth is that poor women are paid insufficiently for surrogacy and many face social stigma. To claim that payments can be regulated by the government is ridiculous. When is enforcement of any law done properly in this country? In India, even enforcing traffic laws is a mammoth task.

The truth is that the poorer the women are, the more babies they want to give birth to. And they do not understand that the compensation they get is a pittance compared to what clinics charge. Also, uneducated and uninformed as many of them are, they seem not to care about the risk to life with every pregnancy.

Even a normal pregnancy puts physical strain on the body. The baby takes all its nutrition from the mother and these poor women do not have a healthy enough postpartum diet to replenish their bodies. Instead, they are likely to give birth again. The bones are robbed of their calcium and the pelvic and urethral muscles can be adversely affected. This wear and tear on the body is called the “maternal depletion syndrome.” Pregnancy also brings to the fore any underlying health condition of the mother, posing a risk to her life. The advocates for surrogacy often gloss over this aspect.

Unfortunately, these victims of surrogacy spend the money they get on their families, not on themselves. In a country where the status of women is not exactly desirable, poor women will be pressured by their families into commercial exploitation of their bodies.

Civilized countries banned surrogacy a long time ago and it was disgusting to see people from those countries coming here in droves to exploit Indian women.

True, the current bill is retrograde. It allows surrogacy without payment but not for same-sex couples, nor for singles. And altruistic (non-commercial) surrogacy is not without pitfalls. There could be pressure on women – daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law – to become surrogates. But the numbers affected will be minuscule when compared to commercial surrogacy. To compare the two is to deliberately turn a blind eye to ground realities.



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Vijay Mallya Not Guilty?

I am quite sick of hearing that Vijay Mallya is just a failed businessman and not a criminal. Yes, there are people who feel sorry for him. They think he who did the country a national service by starting an airline and creating jobs for thousands.

Personally, I am celebrating that he will be extradited back to India. He ran away like a common thief.  

thief-2831254_1280

He took loans of crores from banks, no doubt after giving bribes. And he never really intended to pay them back. His lack of intention to pay is explained here in this Financial Times article and also here in this Financial Express article.  And apparently, there is evidence that he misused the loans, that he bought personal assets with the borrowed money and you can read about that here. Clearly, he believed he was above the law. 

Vijay Mallya is not a stupid man. He had seen the writing on the wall but he gambled with the banks’ money and did god know what else with it. What he didn’t do is pay his employees. Yet, continued to lead a lavish lifestyle. 

This man, who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, was never known to be a nice person. Stories of his arrogance and disrespect for people spread far and wide. He used to make people wait for hours; he didn’t have much regard for anybody, much less his employees. There were stories about him calling his employees for meetings at midnight and then putting in an appearance with a girl or two on his arm. The wild parties were legend. Some said he interviewed the air hostesses himself. 

The truth is that Vijay Mallya was never liked by anybody except his equally rich and arrogant friends. 

Leading a lavish lifestyle or womanising does not a criminal make (unless of course, there are MeToo stories tucked away in Mallya’s repertoire) but defrauding and bribing certainly does. And not paying your employees when they are struggling to make ends meet, even when you have the money, shows an utter disregard for moral values.

Let’s hope that Mallya gets what he deserves – jail. 

(Photograph is a free photo from Pixabay)

We eat pesticides every day

Once, I got to talking with a van driver on a long trip through the countryside. Let’s call him Sunil. Sunil had a farm and talked about it a lot. At the end of the long trip, I gave him a generous tip and he said he wanted to warn me about pomegranates! Don’t eat pomegranates, he said. They are contaminated with pesticides in a bad way; he knows because they grow them on their farm. They never eat the pomegranates themselves. Even if you remove the skin, Sunil said, they aren’t safe to eat. The skin does not form an impermeable barrier, and some pesticides are actually made in such a way that they get sucked into the tissue of the fruit.

I knew all about pesticide contamination in food, but after that conversation with Sunil, I paid more attention.  I found out that the standards of measurement to detect pesticide residue in foods here in India are flawed, and there is weak enforcement as well. This article explains why.

Besides, in India, dangerous pesticides are still allowed. On the 8th of August 2018, India finally banned 18 toxic pesticides – but some dangerous ones are still out there.  And as we continue to be exposed to dangerous pesticides, and their use is not even properly regulated, we can safely assume that food contamination in India is much higher than it is in the developed countries. 

Pesticides are present in our grains, spices, in water, milk and honey.  

The most contaminated fruits were apples, grapes and strawberries, with strawberries being dubbed the ‘dirtiest’ fruit.  Pomegranates were also amongst the highly contaminated fruits. When it came to vegetables,  potatoes and spinach were badly contaminated with pesticides. Vegetables like onions, eggplant and cabbage had less contamination and amongst fruits, pineapples and papayas were less contaminated. Check out the list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen of 2018, here. It is US data but there does not seem to be any Indian data.  Not surprising. 

What’s the solution?

There are few choices. Buy organic if affordable (not that organic produce is 100% free of contaminants) and if not, then soak non-organic produce for 15 minutes in baking soda and water. Peeling the produce also helps.

If you believe that it doesn’t really matter, because after all, we are all alive aren’t we? Not all of us are being stricken down with cancer. Well, pesticides work in insidious ways so best not to celebrate. We certainly aren’t becoming immune to pesticides. True, bacteria strains have become immune to antibiotics and these new superbugs are thriving. Human bodies can adapt too, can’t they? Well, maybe they can, maybe not. But only a small percentage of bodies will, if at all, and that could take many more years. So let’s just assume that we are not on our way to becoming superhumans! Most of us, the vast majority of humans, will get diseases and live on medicines for the rest of our lives.

The best way forward is to petition the government, take part in research studies, write articles, spread awareness. And of course, buy organic whenever you can.

Don’t feed the spam monster

Whether it’s at a supermarket or at a shop or online, you are tricked into giving your mobile number. You could be waylaid by someone who promises you will win a lottery or maybe it’s at the shop where you make a purchase. Mobile numbers it seems, are mandatory.  Oddly enough, giving your mobile number means giving your consent to spam.

Offices and housing colonies often ask for your number when you make a guest entry and nowadays upscale housing colonies will not let you enter until you provide your cell number. A landline number will not do.  

No one really cares about this. That’s why the spam monster is alive and kicking. It’s being fed by the millions of gullible people giving out their cell numbers with alacrity.

Don’t do it.  If you are pressured, especially by pesky housing societies, give a fake number. 

Indian customers are said to receive a daily dose of between five and ten spam calls and as many messages and being on the DND (Do Not Call registry) doesn’t mean a thing. 

Perhaps you are one of those who shrugs it off. You’ve decided not to pick up or you simply cut the call and/or block the number. But that will not kill the spam monster. Complaining to TRAI via the DND app or smsing 1909  is an option but it may or may not work. As this customer found out to his chagrin:

Out of my 30 complaints about the Idea number filed through the DND app, there was action only against four. This too was because these four were mobile numbers and were disconnected after my complaint. On my Jio connection, I had filed 15 complaints, and there was action against one number only.

Apparently, not much action is taken against large companies and you can guess why. The service providers are making money. 

Sending spam is not considered to be a crime. But it is harassment. So why are the fines not heavier and why don’t repeat offenders go to jail? It’s time that spamming became illegal. 

Until then you can try going to a consumer court. A customer once won a large amount as compensation. But few people have the time.

The best thing is to stop feeding the spam monster. Don’t give out your cell number to unknown people. Your mobile number is as private as your home address. 


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Helmetless and gleeful

People not wearing helmets even though it’s the law is nothing new, is it? 

It has been mandatory to wear helmets in India after the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988. And in many states in India, it is now compulsory for even the pillion rider to wear a helmet.  A study found that only 0.6% of all MTW (motorised two-wheelers) pillions were helmeted. Women, in particular, are not likely to wear helmets, even if they are driving. 

Perhaps the helmetless regime believes that nothing will happen to them. Or perhaps they think that they are not harming anybody except themselves. Or perhaps they think that comfort overrides safety. Or is it because they fear that others will make fun of them?  If none of your friends wear helmets, you may feel awkward being the only one!

I have written about the perils of being casual about safety but this malaise cannot be fixed in a hurry.  Disregard for safety has become so entrenched in our psyche that anyone who is careful could be considered foolish or paranoid.  

Giving thumbs down to safety is a sign of an immature society. It reveals a traditional mindset where people want to follow the herd. There is a fear of being different, a fear of being laughed at or ridiculed. It is not necessarily anything to do with living in a rich or poor country because even in a poor country like Vietnam people wear helmets.  The photograph below says it all. 

It’s not just the helmet, but note the masks worn for protection from air pollution. The Vietnamese are concerned not just about hurting their heads in an accident but also about air pollution. People in masks and helmets are the norm there.  Statistics say that India is more polluted and more accident prone but wearing helmets and masks is not the norm.

Could this safety consciousness in Vietnam be something to do with the lack of democracy in the country? The government is strict there. If we wait for our government to be strict and actually enforce our laws, I think we might have to wait forever.


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Extreme Ideologies and violence

I know someone who is a right wing sympathiser. She raves about our godly prime minister, about how evil the non-Hindus are and why we need to set them right. She believes that violence is sometimes necessary. Her calling in life is to “awaken” Hindus. Fake forwards and trumped up videos are a part of her arsenel.

I know another person, with diametrically opposing views. She believes that our prime minister is bad and our country is in a terrible state. She also believes that violence is sometimes necessary.

I am not talking of naxalites or the communists or right wing politicians but of ordinary people. If well-to-do, educated people have such beliefs I shudder to think how vulnerable groups feel.

While one of the reasons why people cling to extreme idealogies is because they feel outraged and insecure because of the problems they face on a daily basis, the fundamental reason is that feel protected within their own clan, their own tribe.

Outsiders become threats. If you go back to the basics, when human beings first evolved, this is how it was. People from other tribes were enemies. Ideologies reigned supreme. So, hating the “other” is almost instinctive human behaviour.

In modern societies, most people don’t develop extremist beliefs because of ideological reasons. It often starts with people they know and like, the groups they move in. They want to connect with other people or find a sense of purpose. It brings a feeling of security and provides psychological support.

The problem is that this feeling of belonging to a particular group or tribe can be taken to an extreme. People start to feel threatened by other ways of life and “other” people. Political and religious parties fan this paranoia.

Today, most violence takes place because there is a mistaken belief in the minds of extremists that they will have a better life if they annhilate or destroy or “fix” the “other.”

If dictators are in power in so many parts of the world – Philippines, Russia, United States, Turkey, China and now Brazil – then it is because the politicians have managed to feed on people’s insecurities. This will not lead to peace.

And what happens if we humans all become the “same”? We will still keep searching for differences and the hating will restart. It is a vicious circle without end…unless we give up this idea of belonging to our own “type” of group.

The only way out is be open to different viewpoints, mix with different kinds of people and develop kindness and compassion because extremism has no place in a modern, peaceful world.

This hatred of the “other” made sense in ancient times, because it was necessary for survival. It was often a matter of life and death.

Today, we need not stick to our tribes to survive. In fact sticking to our “tribe” will likely reinforce narrow ideologies and make us a prey of bad politics.

The American philosopher Terence McKenna has this to say:

…very few ideologies last very long without going sour or becoming toxic.