TODAY -

Burglary: A new public security emergency in Lamka town

Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *



On the afternoon of 15 March 2018, as Ms. Niangngaihlian returned from the hospital to her rented house near PT Sports Complex, New Lamka, she found her front door lock broken. Entering with trepidation, she found her house ransacked, the gas cylinder and bank ATMs missing. Also missing was more than Rs. 10,000 in cash which she had packed in a lady’s handbag.

Ms. Niangngaihlian, a single parent to four children, earns her living by doing odd jobs here and there. None of her children are yet gainfully employed. She has rented her bambo-walled house for Rs. 1500 a month. The house is only walking distance from my house.

When I visited shortly after, she was near hysterical. She paced the floor in panic yet dare not checked whether more goods have been stolen. “What am I to do now? How will I cook our dinner?” Such tragic stories have become so common that many people have grown weary and cynical.

As the police seemingly have their hands full cracking down on narcotics and show-casing their catch on news tv every evening, and as the numerous social bodies and church organizations organized glitzy conferences and entertainment shows on a daily basis, the thieves are having a free run down the neighbourhood roads.

No home in Lamka town seems safe, high walls and big locks notwithstanding. No one dare to leave their home without at least one member staying back to watch it. There may be hardly any home in this town which does not yet experience attempts to loot it.

Yet, there seem to be no serious attempts to tackle this serious public security threat. As things stand, if and when a thief is caught, he is typically handed over to the local youth organization or village authority which in their turn interrogate the thief, beat him up a bit, and then may be hand him over the police.

The police then file certain charges against the thief and hold him in a police lock up from which the relatives will bail him out in due course. The police said they have records of repeat offenders, but there is no proper sharing and dissemination of those records for the attention of local vigilante/social bodies or the general public.

Sometimes, the matter is settled between the family councils of the thief and his victims. They police are happy to stay out as they have their hands full on other matters. (Own house was broken into and looted about two years back while my parents were at church.

Much later, the same thief was caught red-handed while breaking into another house, and he incidentally confessed to the local YPA people about looting our house. Then, the household council took over and a semblance of closure arrived after much delay).

Since the police do not take suomoto notice of cases of burglary and theft, they come to know of such cases only if the same is reported to them. Hence, there is no reliable data about their rampantness. Anecdotal evidence, though, suggest this is the number one fear of families in Lamka town today.

It is generally understood that most of these thieves are people with drug addiction or engaged in other forms of substance abuse. Some of them were publicly disowned by their families in the hope of absolving themselves of the crime committed by one of their members.

Many of them apparently spent nights sleeping inside vacant public buildings or in market places. Some work singly, while others are part of well-oiled networks. At its roots, this is part of a highly complex problem having social, cultural and economic dimensions. It will require everyone, from families to churches to the police, to tackle this problem in its entirety.

But there remain the immediate need to catch these thieves and stop the burglaries. Otherwise, we will hear more and more cases of people taking the law into their own hands by lynching those caught. Anarchy and panic will spread. Societal trust will dissipate. Lawlessness will reign.

For this, for the district police may need to devote more resources and accord higher priority to this menace. A coordinative mechanism may be evolved, involving the police, elected leaders, local organizations and communities. A comprehensive list of known criminals may be drawn up and public awareness about them may be created through the media.

As a body entrusted to ensure law and order, the initiative will have to come from the police authorities, perhaps at the level of the district Superintendent of Police. We, as a society, may have developed much. However, all human developments rest on first assuring physical security. Ensuring law and order remain the first duties of all governments.

Abraham Maslow, in an influential paper published in 1943, proposed a hierarchy of human needs. The most fundamental human needs are physiological: air, water, food, clothing, etc. These are basic survival needs. This is followed by what he called Safety and security needs, which may include physical and personal security, financial and health needs, etc. Only upon assuring these two basic needs can the higher level needs, viz. love and belonging, esteem and self actualization happen.

I asked Niangngaihlian whether she had reported the burglary to the police or the YPA or anyone. She had not. She did not think it will help. She has no hope of recovering the lost goods.

Is this the new normal for our beloved town? Will the much commended Deputy Commissioner Shyam Lal Poonia, the hard working Superintendent of Police, Rakesh Balwal and the tom-toming society organizations now please step up to the challenge??


* Thangkhanlal Ngaihte wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 22, 2018.


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