Why juvenile crime rates are shooting up in select pockets of TN
Gang rivalries, thefts, drug abuse are more common in northern and southern parts of State; child activists recommend constant mentoring
Around the same time three years ago, a 32-year-old man was found dead with knife-wounds on the banks of River Thamirabarani in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. When the district police arrested seven suspects a few days later, the State was shocked. For, the arrested persons were teenagers — including four students from class 10 and class 11. And, the mastermind of the murder was a 16-year-old boy.
The accused teenagers’ parents, school teachers and village residents refused to believe the accusation because, on the day of the murder, the students were attending school and two others went to work. They not just behaved normally, but also expressed shock when one of their teachers informed them about the murder. The boys finally confessed to the crime in front of their parents.
According to police, the deceased — Esakki Shankar, belonging to the Konar community — was in a relationship with the sister of the mastermind, belonging to the Thevar community. Even though the girl’s family was reluctant initially, they had agreed to their marriage.
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But her brother was against it as some of his friends had made fun of him — that his sister was going to marry a man from another community. That provoked him to make a plan with his friends and murder Shankar.
Even though it is a shocking incident, it is not a lone case in the State. Recently, Tamil Nadu police officials arrested three persons including two juveniles aged nine and 14 for murdering 50-year-old Special Sub-Inspector (SSI) S Boominathan, in Tiruchi district. The trio had killed the SSI during his night patrol, when he chased them for stealing goats.
According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2020, Tamil Nadu had the fourth highest rate of juveniles getting involved in crime. And, juveniles accounted for 16.4% of the total crimes committed in the State. The number of cases involving juveniles increased to 3,394 in 2020 from 2,304 in 2018, and it included thefts (392), burglaries (174), robberies (128), offences against property (725), murders (104) and injury of others (326).
“The number of crimes involving juveniles is more in the southern and northern parts of the State than in the western and central parts,” said a senior police official. “The types of crimes they are involved in also varies based on the geographies. For instance, juveniles involved in narcotic cases like ganja, drugs and other banned tobacco products, and theft cases, are more common in the northern parts of the State, comprising Chennai, Kanchipuram and surrounding districts.”
“In the southern districts, clashes due to gang rivalry, attempt to murder and injury cases are more frequent. In most of the cases, the perpetrators are school dropouts,” the official added.
How it begins
An activist who is working closely with juveniles explained that when a child lacks love and care from his family members and loses interest in studies, he slowly starts to strike friendships with other boys in the locality or with the gang of a heroic figure who, most of the time, the society is scared of.
Together, they start to consume liquor and take drugs and tablets (painkillers). Whenever they fall short of money to buy liquor and drugs, they start to steal bikes and mobiles and get involved in robberies in Chennai. Through their friendship, they become part of a close-knit network and sell the stolen items quickly and get away with the crime, said the activist.
Picture down south
In the southern districts, an activist from Madurai said, many of the teenagers are inclined to caste-based organisations and even political parties. “There are several incidents when members of caste-based organisations forcibly take students from schools and make them attend meetings to ‘show’ their crowd. Of late, such incidents have increased along with the rise in caste-based organisations. Similarly, political parties are also using them to ‘show crowds’ during the meetings as they agree to attend the meetings for a lesser price,” he said.
To keep the teenagers under their control, party cadres woo them with food, clothes and other things and, over a period, the teenagers would agree to anything the cadres say, said the activist, adding that they are used for threatening their opponents and in group clashes. “They often fight with their rivals, and sometimes among their own group, to show their superiority,” he added.
Once the teenagers gain the confidence that even they can scare people, they start to indulge in violence, including murder.
To reduce juvenile cases, police should create an amicable relationship with them and should constantly monitor them, said M Karunanidhi, a retired SP. “Most of the children who are involved in such crimes are those left unattended by their parents or are part of broken families. The children are also highly inspired by the movies which glorify rowdyism and video games that are violent in nature,” he added.
Most of the time, children are involved in crimes in the heat of the moment, without realising its impact on their lives, he further said.
“To prevent children from committing crimes, police officials, along with volunteers, should start evening tuition centres for the children, especially those violence-prone areas. Once the children know that they are closely monitored by the police officials, they will start to behave properly. Also, apart from teaching academics, steps should be taken to identify and develop their hidden talents,” said B Pandiaraja, member of Child Welfare Committee, Madurai district.
Janet Shankar, Director Councillor, MS Chellamuthu Trust, and former principal of Madurai Institute of Social Science, said that many of the boys are also being harassed during such incidents and most of the times, it goes unnoticed.
“Healthy families and a comprehensive education system are necessary to keep the children on the right path. Also, more research activities should be carried out in this field to reduce crimes,” she added.