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The Rediff Special/Ehtasham Khan

February 24, 2004

Jagdish Prashad and his wife Vimla close their doors in the evening and open them only after they see people on the streets next morning.

The Prashads, who live in Janakpuri, west Delhi, are in their late 50s. They have good reason to be afraid.

On February 11, D S Mongia, 70, and his wife Santosh, 65, who lived in the same area, were found murdered in their house. The Mongias lived in B block, two streets ahead of the Prashads. Both families had a few things in common: they were elderly and lived alone. Both Mongia and Prashad were retired government servants.

Prashad had never really spoken to Mongia though they went for morning walks in the same park. Their conversation was limited to the occasional greeting.

When Prashad heard of the murder, he didn't pay a condolence visit. Instead, he locked himself in his house and asked his wife to be on the alert. The Prashads have stopped going for morning walks. They are more cautious of their servant Bhagwan, who has been with them for about five years. "You never know who is what," says Prashad.

On the morning of February 11, when the Mongias' maidservant Anita Rani reached their home, the door was locked. She found that strange since the car was in the porch. When she peeped inside a window, she saw two bodies lying in a pool of blood.

Santosh Mongia's throat has been slit, her husband had been stabbed in the abdomen. Jewellery and some cash was missing. Suspicion fell on the Nepali servant Deepak, who was also missing. Deepak had joined the Mongias two months earlier. To everyone's surprise, he returned in the evening, seemingly unaware of what had happened. The police arrested him. Nothing has been recovered so far.

"They [the Mongias] were quite popular," says Prashad. "Mongia's wife was quite active in social work. I had seen her a couple of times."

Since the murder, Prashad has asked his servant to report for work at 8 am; Bhagwan used to earlier come at 6 am.

"I make tea myself. I look outside the window and open the door only when I see a lot of movement outside. I don't even pick up the newspaper from the door unless Bhagwan comes," says Prashad, whose only son lives in the US. "My son is an engineer. He is in Texas on an assignment. He will be back in three months or so."

Prashad phones his son whenever he and his wife feel lonely. He also phones his relatives in Delhi, especially in the evening and at night.

On February 3, businessman Gauri Shankar Gupta's wife Vijaya, 50, was murdered at her home in Jangpura Extension, south Delhi. The criminals bashed her head against a wall before decamping with Rs 350,000 in cash and some jewellery. The Guptas lived alone; their relatives live across the road.

On February 5, robbers entered the house of 75-year-old Chandra Bhan Batra in Rajinder Nagar and tied his wife's hands. Batra discovered them when he returned home from shopping at around 7 pm, so they killed him and disappeared with the loot. The Batras lived alone. The children -- three daughters and a son -- were married and lived separately. On February 21, Delhi detectives arrested Sher Ali to Batra's murder. The Delhi police had announced a reward of Rs 50,000 for Sher Ali, who was arrested in the Kalyanpuri neighbourhood in east Delhi

On February 13, 65-year-old Surinder Chawla was strangled to death in his house in Naraina Vihar. Chawla, who was disabled, lived with his 21-year-old daughter Pragati.

Most of these murders took place during the night or early in the morning.

On February 14, the police arrested two workers -- Arun Kumar and Dharmender – for allegedly killing an elderly woman, Indira Kumar, in Vikaspuri. They apparently escaped with jewellery and cash.

Both the accused used to paint the victim's house and were known to her. Once they discovered she lived alone, they planned to kill her. Kumar's son lives in the US while her daughter works and lives in the neighbouring town of Gurgaon.

Two others -- Raju and Vikas -- allegedly helped in the murder. All four were residents of Bihar but were living and working in Delhi. The police claim to have recovered the stolen goods.

There were 500 murders in Delhi in 2003, 511 in 2002 and 547 in 2001. The city witnessed 18 murders of elderly couples last year and 21 in 2002. Out of the 18 murders last year, 11 took place in south Delhi, where mostly upper middle class and rich people live. The motive was mainly robbery; elderly people are soft targets, say the police.

Out of an estimated one million senior citizens in Delhi -- which is home to around 15 million people -- they have identified 3,740 elderly folk who need help.

A scheme was launched with the help of various Residents Welfare Associations -- neighbourhood action groups, which takes care of the neighbourhood -- under which police constables were supposed to visit these 3,740 vulnerable people. School children were roped in to interact with the elderly.

Retired army officer Arun Kumar, former president of the Sarita Vihar RWA, says: "There is no coordination with the police. They come for the meetings but there is no implementation of what has been decided. They are only interested in issuing advertisements and giving us dos and don'ts. This alone cannot solve the problem. We are trying to interact among ourselves more frequently. It is true that residents also have to be more responsible."

Deputy Commissioner of Police Tajinder Luthra counters this, saying: "We have identified senior citizens and monitor them. We have given strict orders to the beat constables to check every home and verify the servants."

Adds Additional Commissioner of Police P Kamaraj: "There have been some incidents in quick succession. But that does not mean crime is increasing." In his earlier post as deputy commissioner of police, south Delhi, Kamaraj had started a programme to greet senior citizens on the New Year.

"I had asked constables to prepare a list of senior citizens in my district. On New Year's day, the constables went with a rose and greeted them. It brought people closer to us and they felt very happy. We need that type of approach."

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: show some pictures

that was very good thing that u old what is happenong in this city but u have o show the pictures of the criminals please ...

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Sub: murders murders everywhere

The cheap, sexy and vulgar movies full of crime inspire millions to think criminally and to resort to crime. Also inspiring millions in this shining ...

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Sub: the killing fields of india today

It is not as if poverty is suddenly upon us to force the poor to take to robbery, loot and murder to survive. The poor ...

Posted by pgvijairaghavan


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