Murder in Madras
As Chennai (new name for Madras) was celebrating Christmas with Carols, and the Tamil-Hindu holy month of “Margarzhi” with Vedic hymns and Carnatic music, 11-year-old Aravind Karthikeyan lost his life most gruesomely. Three of his own friends, teens between 15 and 17 years of age, killed him on the night of December 26 2006 after luring him to an empty house on the city’s western periphery. They wrapped the body in a bed-sheet, put it on a bicycle, took it to a desolate spot on a Hindu temple land and hid it behind the bushes.
But the teenagers had not planned to murder Aravind. They merely wanted to kidnap him and get a ransom of Rs 500,000 from his father, an employee with a private hospital in Chennai. They thought of using the money to buy fancy mobile telephones and have a good New Year’s Eve bash in one of the city’s star hotels.
However, the plan went horribly wrong when Aravind overheard his friends at the house, and tried to escape. The teens panicked and hit the boy with a brick killing him. It was only after this that the boys placed the ransom call. Two days later, the police arrested the offenders, two of whom are high school students. The third is a school dropout, but works in a factory.
Interestingly, all of them belong to respectable middleclass families with no known record of dysfunction or crime. They are not even poor or abused, factors that have till now contributed to deviant behaviour among children.
Chennai’s police chief, Letika Saran, told the media that the boys had been inspired by films to commit the crime. In fact, they had gone to the extent of sprinkling chili powder around the bushes to throw police dogs off the scent, a scene re-enacted from a recent Tamil movie. Cinema has always been an integral part of Tamil society, giving rise to political thought and personalities. Now, it appears to be instigating crime.
There is no “counter-culture to balance the often negative imagery of cinema”, says Geeta Ramaseshan, a leading Chennai lawyer and social activist. Such juvenile crimes are on the rise even in Chennai, which is by far the most tradition-bound and conservative among India’s four metros. Dazzled by the neon-sign blinking consumerism and motivated by cinema’s make-believe message, Chennai’s youth is taking the easiest way to acquire riches.
Sadly, Indian juvenile remand homes one of which that Aravind's killers
have been sent to since they are under 18 and cannot go to a normal prison
-- are not really equipped as counter-balancing reformatories. And the
family too seems to be failing here. Even in Chennai.
(Posted on this website on January 11 2007)