“It’s clear even from the newspapers that Delhi’s day-to-day dangers are nowhere near the level of even the safest American cities. The papers report every crime as if it heralds the end of days, but the fact that simple robberies make the news as often as they do suggests that bigger crimes are not occurring at a comparable rate.” – Jenny & Dave Prager
Conventional wisdom holds that Delhi is a riddled with crime. Our neighbors and coworkers assured us that Delhi was a haven of danger. Criminals lurked around every corner, they declared; we were taking our life into our hands every time we rode in an auto, walked through the Old City, or generally left our house after sundown.
But after eighteen months in the city, during which our only brush with crime was four scary six-year-olds, our question is this: why isn’t there more crime in Delhi?
The demographics and economics of Delhi suggest that the city should be a war zone. The city skews young and male: 55% of Delhi is male, as compared to 52% across India and a global average of slightly more than 50%; and over 53% of the city is under the age of 25, compared to about 33% in New York City. Poor young males in America turn to sex and violence to vent their energy and aggression, but Delhi is such a conservative culture that it’s very hard for young men to engage in the former. The city’s economic gulf is incredibly wide and incredibly visible, like Ferraris-driving-past-pavement-dwellers visible. And the hardships of the city — heat, cold, traffic, pollution, water shortages, high population density, insults and indignities — are overwhelming even to people who can afford to overcome them.
Most cities would be torn apart by these social forces. But not Delhi.
The statistics reflect our observations. We don’t argue with reports that show Delhi to be India’s “crime capital“. But while Delhi may be dangerous by Indian standards, it’s positively tranquil as compared to American cities. The Delhi region had 495 murders in 2007, or 2.95 murders for every 100,000 people by the National Crime Records Bureau’s population estimates. In that same year, however, New York City had 5.94 murders per 100,000 people — and that was a year that New York City was named the safest big city in the United States. There’s a similar story for rape in 2007: 3.57 per 100,000 in New Delhi, 10.48 per 100,000 in New York.
It’s fair to assume that a lot of crime goes unreported in Delhi. But it’s hard to imagine that three murders for every 100,000 people go unreported, or seven rapes for every 100,000 people. Which means, from our limited and admittedly amateur statistical analysis, that while Delhi has all of the demographics to make it a war zone, it has none of the actual crime.
It’s clear even from the newspapers that Delhi’s day-to-day dangers are nowhere near the level of even the safest American cities. The papers report every crime as if it heralds the end of days, but the fact that simple robberies make the news as often as they do suggests that bigger crimes are not occurring at a comparable rate. “Rs 1 lakh stolen from Punjab trader on bus,” shouts one headline for a seven-paragraph article — a petty crime that, while unfortunate for the victim, wouldn’t garner even a sentence in an American paper because so many bigger crimes would elbow it out of the way.
We just can’t understand why Delhi’s so safe. Not only do we not understand why angry young men haven’t taken full control of the city, we can’t even understand what keeps the grizzled old parking attendants from stealing the cars to which they’re entrusted. In places like Defence Colony Market, rich businessmen routinely hand the keys to their million-rupee cars to a parking attendant with the accompanying promise of a ten-rupee tip. How could these poor men, when faced with such a quick ticket to easy street, not take advantage of it?
Never mind what Delhi’s apocalyptic news media says. The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City? – Our Delhi Struggle, 9 December 2009