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Calcutta 1981

Jean Racine

Session 2. A. A Metropolis in Crisis

9. Violence, Crime and Labour Unrest in Calcutta

A Comparative Analysis in Social Tension

Shibani Kinkar Chaube

Texte intégral

Calcutta—the violent city (?)

  • 1 This paper, with a few changes, and without charts and appendix, was published under the title "So (...)
  • 1 Mitra, A., Calcutta Indias City, Calcutta, New Age Publishers Pvt. Ldt., 1963, p. 29.
  • 2 Moorhouse, G., Calcutta, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, caption in photograph No. 1, 1971.
  • 3 Ibid., pp. 4-5.

1There is no other city in the world today which has inspired so much awe and concern of the national and international community as Calcutta1. In the fifties Jawaharlal Nehru called it a "dead" city "in mortal love and anguish and not certainly in disgust"1. Geoffrey Moorhouse, who experienced the city's life in 1969 and 1970, called it a "perpetually violent city"2. "Very few people have ever said anything nice about Calcutta, unless they were Bengali... The truth is that almost everything popularly associated with Calcutta is highly unpleasant and sometimes very nasty indeed. It is bracketed in the Western mind with distant rumours of appalling disaster, riot and degradation"3. Four photographs spreading between pages 160 and 161 of Moorhouse's book under the option "Four men who have helped to make Calcutta what it is" depict Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of British India, Lord Curzon, "Viceroy and imperial ruler par excellence", Rabindranath Tagore, "Nobel Prize winner and most glittering member of a highly talented and influential Bengali family" and Jyoti Basu, "leader of the CPI(M) and the most powerful Communist in India"; the rest of the book points to the CPI(M) as the devil of the piece.


The meaning of violence

  • 4 Mackenzie, W.J.M., Power, Violence, Decision, London, Penguin, 1975, p. 39.
  • 5 Domenach, J.M., "The Ubiquity of Violence", International Social Science Journal, XXX, 4, 1978, p. (...)

2It is not easy to sociologically define violence particularly because of its implicit roots in the concept of crime. W.J.M. Mackenzie define violence as "the exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury to cause damage to persons or property; action or conduct characterised by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom"4. Yet Domenach applies the term to "the use of force, whether overt or covert, in order to wrest from individuals or groups something that they are not disposed to give of their own free will"5.

  • 6 Spitz, P., "Silent Violence: Famine and inequality", ibid., p. 867.
  • 7 Gurr, T.R., Why Men Rebel, Princeton University Press, 1970, p. 160.
  • 8 Khan, R., "Violence and socio-economic development", International Social Science Journal, op. cit (...)

3Apparently both these definitions mix the question of instrumentality with that of motive: Mackenzie mixes force with harm and Domenach mixes it with gain. In both these definitions, however, stress is laid on the use of force, direct or indirect, physical or otherwise. This abstraction, instead of simplifying the definition of violence, complicates it. For "violence” —as distinguished from "force" —is a value-loaded concept, designating the use of force to change a state of affairs that is accepted as legitimate. The problem ultimately involves the very basis of criminology as a social science, for almost every "legitimate" state of affairs in society is based on certain forces and the sociological test of crime rests in the perception of the forces that confront each other. Thus, Pierre Spitz calls famine and inequality "silent violence"6’and Tedd Robert Gurr considers political violence as "normal self-adjustive mechanism of society"7. Khan emphasizes that violence in general is not only a personal affair, it has a cultural and a situational dimension8.

The meaning of crime

4In a general sense crime as such can be regarded as an "adjustive" or "remedial" action on the part of the "criminal". A crime is a crime because it goes against a prevailing norm. A crime is, further, viewed by different parts of the world, even by different sections of the same people differently. Every "criminal" has a grievance against a particular state of affairs. The most significant point about such grievances is that they are hardly uniform in their specificity. The grievance may be aimed at one individual or more, one group of individuals or more, a government, a law, a situation or even an attitude held individually or collectively. The grievance may be born by one individual or more (usually in varying degrees). It may —in fact, it does— vary in intensity from time to time and from place to place.

5This will be evident from a classification of the "crimes" that will soon be considered here for an understanding of the social tensions in Calcutta. Murder, robbery, ordinary theft and riot, as defined in Indian law, are rather unsophisticated urban crimes. We are not considering "culpable homicide not amounting to murder" as the motives for such crime are by no means clear. Crimes like "cheating" and "forgery" are complex, while "dacoity" (involving five or more persons organized for the purpose of forcible capture of property) is a predominantly rural crime. So, they are ignored.

6Crime can be studied from two angles: motives and instrumentality. Motivationally crime arises out of different degrees of desire either to gain some profit or property or to cause harm or injury, or out of a combination of both. Theft represents the simplest form of gain-oriented crime though, in many cases, it may arise out of the desire to harm people too. In robbery both these motives are present, but probably the second to a greater degree than the first. Murder is the most serious of the harmful offences, but, in many cases, it may be associated with the desire to gain. Riot is usually aimed at harming others. But even riot may emerge from a desire to gain indirectly by destroying the strength of the rivals. In other words, there is no "purely" gain-oriented or harm-oriented crime.

7Instrumentally, theft is scarcely violent, and it needs to be treated separately from the more violent crimes. In the Indian criminal law riot involves five persons or more, while robbery involves four persons or less. Murder is defined by the affect of the crime, and not by the number of persons involved in it. In the cases of murder and robbery, further, the criminal intentions are much more prominent than in the case of riot. The "nature" of the crime in murder and robbery, therefore, is regarded to be more serious than that in riot. The main criteria of "riot" are two (i) there is a gang-up and (ii) there is violence. In other words, from the social scientific angle, theft falls primarily within the domain of psychology, riot falls primarily within the domain of social psychology, while murder and robbery hold somewhat intermediate positions.

The social psychology of riot

  • 9 Klapp, O.E., Currents of Unrest: An Introduction to Collective Behaviour, New York, Holl, Reinhart (...)
  • 10 Ibid., p. 49.

8Viewed thus "riot" under the Indian criminal law falls within the category of what the social psychologists would call an "outburst of excited crowd action” and encompass a "mob" ("a hostile crowd acting concertedly toward a goal, which is usually that of inflicting "violence" on somebody"), a "riot" as such ("a free-for-all of crowds and individuals in violent conflict") and a crowd "panic" ("a precipitous flight in which coordination breaks down and individuals act for themselves without concern for others")9. The important elements in the production of a riot, that is, a crowd turning violent, are identified to be the following: (i) common attitudes, (ii) tension (iii) mood, (iv) imagery, (v) trigger, and (vi) circular interaction10

  • 11 Ibid., p. 137.
  • 12 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
  • 13 Ibid., p. 55.

9Common attitudes involve some homogeneity, or sharing of values. Tension stands for "the tendencies in the organism that are pressing for release by a suitable trigger"11. The mood is something beyond common attitude, it sets a range of what is possible and probable in crowd behaviour at a time, and the imagery helps to set the crowd mood12. Trigger means the various Stimuli, including acts of leaders, that precipitate crowd action or new stages of feeling at various points in the development process13. Circular interaction establishes rapport and loss of self-awareness through repeated cheering, jeering and haranguing. All diese components are present in the crowds of football fans that, for the past few years, have kept the guardiane of Calcutta's law and order anxious on every day that a leading team is in the field.

10Social psychologists thus regard riot as a sub-set of "social unrest." Social unrest signifies a state of affairs in which:

  • People are restless, tense and disturbed;
  • Feelings are expressed in overt behaviour (signs) that can stimulate other people;
  • Action in fact becomes contagious14.

Indices of social tension

11In common use "tension" is frequently confused with "conflict". According to our definition tension is a subjective phenomenon while conflict has an objective as well as a subjective dimension. Springing from specific social conditions, tensions manifest themselves in conflicts. As all tension are rooted in society, how do we distinguish "social tension"? I adopt three criteria for such distinction: (i)strength of participation in a conflict, (ii) the openness of its occurence and (iii) the sporadic nature of such occurrence.

12Social tension is likely to instigate people to violate the law as well as the right of others with a certain amount of boldness and often in collusion with sympathisers. Such conflicts inflate the volume of "crime" in a society. Circumstantially, however, a situation of intense social tension cannot be permanent. Either there is separation, or the conflicts are controlled by the authorities within limits. Yet, such subdued tension occasionally get released in the form of large-scale conflict. The "trigger" for such large-scale release is expected to be much bigger and effective than that in an occasional riot or vandalism. In other words, the larger and the more sustained a conflict is, the trigger increasingly tums into mobilization. If war is a bigger form of conflict, mobilization is the bigger form of the trigger. The important point is that social tensions are reflected by occasional rise of crimes rather than in their steady trends.

13Finally, increased participation may substantially affect the specificity of a "crime." It reduces the prospects of direct gain of the individual participants from any particular act. In such a situation the desire to harm takes precedence over the desire to gain at least for the participating "rank", if not for the ring leaders. In other words, the mass of the participants become motivated mainly by the element of protest than by a desire to obtain immediate remedy. Sociologically, the dilution of the gain-orientation may be called "anomy."

14The above analysis enables us to attempt the following relativistic classification of the four kinds of "crime" under consideration. As an index of social tension, on our criteria, theft is the least qualified. Murder, when committed by individuals or very small groups, and in secret, will be of more or less similar status. Mass involvement in murder, often in the open, are more qualified. In urban societies, however, more murders are committed in secret and by individuals or small groups than in public and by big groups. Robbery frequently involves small gangs and some public knowledge. Riot involves a group and is open.

15One is here confronted with a conflict between quantity and quality. Not only is murder likely to be more harm-oriented than robbery. In the prevailing urban ethics of India murder is less likely to be ignored than robbery. But there is a greater probability for one's getting away with a murder than a robbery. Individual and secret murders represent lesser "social" tension than robberies. But a significant rise of the volume of murder in a particular period represents a greater amount of social tension than a similar rise of robbery. Murder of course represents the highest amount of tension. But as we have chosen to define "social tension" in terms of participation in overt conflicts, riot, which always has large participation, gets precedence over murder. Robbery has a maximum participation of four persons, and it is more clearly gain-oriented than murder or riot. Hence it gets the third place. Theft comes fourth.

Crime and social tension

1. Riot

2. Murder

High participation;

High-low participation;

High harm-orientation and High violence

High harm-orientation and High violence

3. Robbery

4. Theft

Medium-low participation; High gain-orientation and High violence

Low participation; High gain-orientation and Low violence


  • 15 Crime in India, Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of (...)
  • 2 Kanpur was the biggest urban agglomeration of Uttar Pradesh in 1971, with 1,275,000 inhabitants. I (...)

16It should be clear by now that we attach no "value" to the crimes, but seek to understand the sociological significance of these legal categories. In the following pages we make a comparative estimate of the social tension underlying the four urban "crimes" from the crime figures, as reported by the police, during the fifteen years from 1961 to 197115, in the four metropolitan cities of Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras. As none of these cities can be considered predominantly industrial, the reports from Kanpur2, the most industrial major city of India are also compared. It should be stipulated that the reports of the cases are merely numerical. They do not reflect the spread and the intensity of each incident. They do not constitute the sufficient ground for comparing the "criminality" of the respective cities. For the figures depend upon the reporting habit of the people and the recording habit of the police.

17Thus it is the singular practice of Calcutta police to record cases of snatching as theft rather than robbery. This slightly raises the theft figures of Calcutta at the cost of robbery. On the other hand, they are good indicatore of the types of crimes that the respective cities are prone to. For one incident may lead to the recording of a number of cases. A riot may be accompanied by murder and/or robbery. The separate recording System provides dues to the predominant themes to a city's crimes.

18The years covered correspond to the 1961 census at one end and the beginning of the emergency at the other (more recent all-India figures were not available at the time of writing). By 1961 the cities of Greater Bombay and Delhi got the present shape. The territorial limits of the three other cities (Calcutta, Kanpur and Madras) correspond to the respective Corporation jurisdictions. With a view to the comparative purpose the figures under murder, robbery and riot are presented as "per lakh" of the estimated mid-year population, those under theft as "per thousand" of the same. This conversion is worked out in the records themselves from 1972 to 1975. The conversion for the earlier period had to be worked out of the estimated mid-year population from the figures of population census. On the graph, the figures showed some interesting correspondences.


19In spite of the inclusion of "snatching" in the category of theft in Calcutta, the city has the lowest theft curve, Madras, Bombay, Kanpur and Delhi rising above it one by one.

20The final reason why "theft" is disqualified to be considered as an indicator of "tension", however, is the relative steadiness of the theft curves in the cities though after 1969 the curve jumps in Delhi and rises steadily in Kanpur.

Fig. 9.1. Thefts, robberies and murders in five indian metropolises, 1961-1975


21The robbery curve fluctuates more than the theft curve. Bombay holds the highest rank till 1964 and then goes down to Kanpur, regaining the position only in 1966. It was beaten by Delhi and Calcutta in 1970. In 1971 Calcutta reaches the peak of its own robbery curve and beats Delhi for the second position among the cities. From 1972 the ranks have been stabilized. While Kanpur's supremacy was never challenged since 1967, in 1972 Delhi becomes the second and Bombay the third. Madras was the fourth and Calcutta the last till 1967. Calcutta rose to the fourth position in 1968 and to the third position in 1969. From 1972 Calcutta holds the fourth rank.

22Calcutta’s robbery curve may have been affected by the non-inclusion of snatching in robbery. But the extent of such adversity must have been marginal, for it did not substantially raise the theft curve of Calcutta.


23There is as much greater variation in the murder curves as in the robbery, though the volume of fluctuations in robbery is greater than that in murder. But for four years, Calcutta's Murder curve is above only that of Madras. In 1964 Calcutta supersedes Bombay and then goes down. From 1963 onwards Kanpur leads the other cities and is superseded by Calcutta only in 1970-71. Excepting those two years in Calcutta, Kanpur's murder curve is also most fluctuating among the cities. Delhi is at the top in 1961-62, and then maintains a steady second position except in 1971, 1973 and 1974, when Bombay is at the second position.


24Generally speaking, the riot curves are the most fluctuating. They also generally hold the highest place in the respective cities, being superseded by the robbery curves in Delhi in 1970-1971 and 1975, in Kanpur in 1967-68, 1972 and 1975, and in Bombay in 1962-65, 1967-68, 1972 and 1975. Madras has an extraordinarily high record of riot in 1962. Otherwise, it keeps the lowest position up to 1966 and in 1969-70. After 1970, Madras, Bombay and Delhi frequently change position. Calcutta holds the top rank except in 1962-63, 1965-66, 1973 and 1975, when Kanpur leads her.

25City-wise the most remarkable feature of the crime curves is the high incidence of riot in cities. There also is close correspondence of the volumes of riot and robbery in Kanpur and, to a lesser extent, in Bombay and Delhi. The largest gap between riot and other crimes is in Calcutta, followed by Madras. This suggest an impersonal character of the protests expressed by riot in Calcutta and Madras. The fact that the robbery curves are about the lowest in these cities further suggests a middle-class (bhadralok) element in the prevailing value Systems.

Fig. 9.2. Riots and man-days lost in five Indian metropolises, 1961-1975

Fig. 9.3. Thefts, robberies, murders, riots and man-days lost in Calcutta, 1961-1975

  • 3 1970-71 were in Calcutta the years of maximum Naxalite activities, the revolutionaries proning "th (...)

26Social tension is measured in terms of sporadic rises in murder, robbery and riot. The focus falls on the "crisis" years when particular crimes are at the peak. The method is simple averaging over the 15 years. The method has its drawbacks, since about the mid-sixties "crimes" in cities seem to "take off'. It is however, simple and still points out some significant phenomena. There are two exceptions. No particular period in the recent history of the Indian cities is as distinguished as 1970-71 in Calcutta. We have therefore singled out those two years in working out Calcutta's crime average. There is another exception similarly singled out: riot in 1962 Madras3.

27There are not a few years in the cities history when robbery, murder and riot simultaneously exceed their averages. Bombay has it in 1964-65, 1967 (3 years), Delhi and Kanpur in 1971-74 (4 years), Madras in 1973-74 (2 years), and Calcutta in 1970-71 and 1973-75 (5 years). This calculation will give Calcutta the first place in respect cf social tensions, Delhi and Kanpur the second, Bombay the fourth and Madras the last. High incidence of riot and murder together are reached by Calcutta in 1967-68, by Bombay in 1969 and by Kanpur in 1975. In terms of the lesser combination of riot and robbery Bombay exceeds its average in 1973-74 and Calcutta in 1969 and 1972, Kanpur making it in 1970. The respective averages in robbery and murder together are exceeded by Bombay in 1962, Delhi in 1975, Kanpur in 1967 and Madras in 1975. The riot average alone is exceeded by Bombay in 1966 and 1970 and Madras in 1962 and 1971. The robbery average alone is exceeded by Bombay in 1968. The murder averages alone are exceeded in Bombay in 1961 and 1963 by Calcutta in 1964 and by Kanpur in 1969. This is of course not a measure of The volume of The "crimes". On the other hand, the clustering of the crimes is likely to indicate the social climate in which they are committed. Thus, it is only in Calcutta that rise in robbery is always associated with rise in riot. On the other hand, in Calcutta, murder, while mostly accompanying riots, rises alone in 1964.

Crime and urban unrest

28The most probable causes of urban unrest are, at least in the Indian context, believed to be inter-communal conflict, labour trouble and/or high politicization of the people.

  • 16 Indian Labour Statistics, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Rehabilitation, Government of India, (...)

29A perfect quantification of these factors is impossible. But we have some data about "labour unrest" in terms of the man-days annually lost, due to strikes and lockouts arising out of specific demands of workers from 1961 to 1974, in the States in which the respective cities are located16.

30The figures used are in absolute number and relate to the organized sector. They can at best give an impression of the environs of the cities under consideration. In this respect the cut-off point is clearly found in the mid-sixties. In 1966 Maharashtra (Bombay) exceeds the average, followed by a relative quiet from 1967 to 1971. Uttar Pradesh shows up in two periods 1966-67 and 1973-74. Tamil Nadu (Madras) has the boom from 1968 to 1974 with the exception of 1969. So has Delhi, with the exception of 1970. West Bengal picks up in 1967.

Table 9.1: Average of crimes in cities (1961-75) and labour unrest in corresponding States (1961-74)


Riot 1

Murder 2

Robbery 3

Labour unrest 4

Bombay (Maharashtra)





Calcutta (W. Bengal)





excluding 1970-71





Delhi (Delhi Union Territory)





Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh)





Madras (Tamil Nadu) excluding 1962

8,07 4,72




For columns 1,2 and 3 average figures are calculated per lakh inhabitants. Column 4 refers to man-days lost. Yearly detailed data are given inappendix.

31Table 9.2 gives the years in which riot, murder and robbery in the cities and labour unrest in the corresponding States since 1961 exceeded their averages.

Table 9.2: Years of more than average incidence of crimes and labour unrest since 1961




Labour Unrest (1961-75)






Calcutta*(West Bengal)





Delhi (DelhiUnion Territory)





Kanpur(Uttar Pradesh)





Madras**(Tamil Nadu)





(*) The average for Calcutta worked out excluding 1970-71.
(**) The riot average for Madras worked out excluding 1962.
Source: Crime in India and Indian Labour Yearbook.

32It will be seen that excess in labour unrest in the corresponding state did not lead to on excess in any urban crime in Kanpur in 1966, in Delhi in 1968-69 and Bombay in 1972. In most other cases, labour unrest is accompanied by riot. There are two exceptions: Madras in 1968 and 1970, and Delhi in 1975. In 1968 and 1970 Madras murder accompanies labour unrest in the state. In 1975 Delhi robbery and murder accompany labour unrest. Riot, robbery and murder together accompany labour unrest in Calcutta in 1969-71 and 1973-75, in Delhi in 1971-74, in Kanpur in 1971, 1973 and 1974 in Madras in 1972-74, but never in Bombay. Riot and robbery accompany labour unrest in Bombay in 1973-74 and in Madras in 1974. Riot and murder accompany labour unrest in Calcutta in 1967-68, and in Kanpur in 1975. On the other hand, without the company of labour unrest, riot and robbery never exceed their averages together. Without the company of labour unrest, riot and murder exceed their averages in 1970 Kanpur and 1972 Calcutta, and robbery and murder do so in 1962 Bombay, 1967 Kanpur and 1975 Madras. Such excesses take place singularly in riot in 1962 Madras and 1970 Delhi and Bombay, in robbery in 1968 Bombay and in murder in 1964 Calcutta, 1967 Madras and 1969 Kanpur. Without the company of labour unrest, the riot-robbery-murder combination exceed its average in 1964-65 Bombay, 1970 Delhi, 1971 Calcutta and 1972 Kanpur.

33Among the singular excesses, however, all are not equally significant. The 1969 excess in Kanpur murder is marginal (2.2%), and is lower than in 1967. However, labour unrest in the state of Uttar Pradesh is, in 1969, lowest among all the years from 1964 to 1974. The year 1970 actually shows the descent of the riot curve in Bombay since 1969 and the rise of the same in Delhi since 1969. Robbery in Bombay in 1968 was also lower than that in 1967. In Madras, the murder excess of 1967 is accompanied by a simultaneous rise in robberies, riots and labour unrest. Except for robberies, this rise goes on in 1968, which shows the higher figures of the entire sixties for riots, murder and labour unrest.

34This leaves us with the task of explaining the 1962 excess in riot in Madras and the 1964 excess in murder in Calcutta.


35In 1964 Calcutta not only exceeds its murder average, but reaches the peak of murder for the entire period excluding the two exceptional years of 1970-71. Though robbery in Calcutta was much below the average, in 1964, it was at its peak for the period 1961-66. Neither riot nor labour unrest did rise to any significant proportion. It was the year of the last communal riot in Calcutta when the lives and properties of the Muslims of the city were affected.

  • 17 Crime in India 1962, p. 12.

36The singular rise of riot in the city of Madras in 1962 to a rather alarming degree is explained by the anti-price-rise agitation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham17 which alerted the national leadership so much that in 1963 the Sixteenth Amendment to the constitution of India was passed to ban all secessionist demands. This perhaps testifies to the specialized character of a middle class movement-for 1962 has the lowest record of labour trouble in Tamil Nadu between 1961 and 1974. The movement was, however, parochial and it is interesting that at the pre-1967 period the murder curve in Madras rose slightly in 1962. On the other hand, in 1965, the year of the language agitation when 66 persons reportedly died of police firing, the rate of murder was the lowest, those of robbery and riot were low. The state's labour disputes too were moderate in volume.

37In 1969 riots reached their peak in Bombay, murders did not reach their peak, but exceeded the average, robbery is lowest in the period since 1962 and labour troubles considerably low. This was the year of the height of the Shiv Sena agitation, a parochial middle-class phenomenon. Murder rises to its peak in Kanpur and riot to the third highest place, while robbery is at its bottom, in the first year of the Emergency. But contemporary evidences are too inadequate for the hazarding of a guess to explain the phenomenon.

Labour unrest and crime

38In 1968 murder reached its peak in Madras. That year labour unrest also reaches its peak for the period 1961-71. This may give rise to the impression of an exclusive association of murder and labour unrest in Madras unless we take into account the fact that, inspite of the exclusion of 1962 from the riot average of Madras, the average remains affected by a great rise in the period 1971-74. In fact 1968 sees the peak of the riot curve for the years between 1963 and 1970. Similarly, the riot curve of Madras reached its second highest point for the period. Thus murder and riot accompany labour unrest in 1968 and 1970 Madras. One major difference between Calcutta and Madras may however be noted in this connection.

39In Calcutta large-scale communal tension never appeared after 1964. On the other hand, the tensions appearing in Calcutta are stated clearly in terms of class conflict. In Madras, however, linguistic tension and labour troubles have frequently appeared at short intervals. Thus the labour disputes in 1968 Madras related chiefly to the textile workers’ strike in February 1968, while there was a spurt of linguistic tension in May-June 1968.

40The following associations of urban crimes with labour unrest are suggested by the above analysis:

41Labour unrest has the greatest association with riot.

42Robbery alone never accompanies labour unrest. This statement also holds good for murder and robbery. Murder alone rarely accompanies labour unrest. Murder and riot accompany labour unrest only in Calcutta in 1967-68. Robbery and riot do so in Bombay in 1973-74 and in Calcutta in 1969 and 1972.

43Murder, robbery and riot accompany labour unrest more frequently. On the whole these facts would suggest that labour unrest does not necessarily lead to social tension. There is, further, a kind of inverse relation between labour unrest and robbery as such. There may be an excess of robbery during an excess of labour trouble, but only in the company of riot, or of riot and murder. To a slightly lesser extern, murder too has an inverse relation with labour unrest. This can probably be explained partly by the restreint with which organized labour movement tends to impose on itself as testified by Bombay which has perhaps the most unionized labour in the country.

Crime in Calcutta

44It appears, therefore, that while uncontrolled labour agitation has some association with the simultaneous rise in riot, robbery and murder, controlled labour movement seeks to avoid robbery and murder while middle class agitations tend to avoid property-oriented crimes more than murders. The first part of the last statement may go a long way in explaining the simultaneous rise of riot, robbery, murder and labour unrest in Calcutta since 1967. There are however some important points to be noted about Calcutta.

  • There was no communal conflict on a large scale after 1964.
  • 1967 ushered in the most radical phase of West Bengal politics. In 1967 and 1969 two United Front governments were installed in the state.
  • In Calcutta alone the gap between the riot curve and all other curves has always been wide. Except in 1962 there has never been such a gap even in Madras. In the three other cities riot and robbery go almost hand in hand.

45The above analysis of crimes suggests a remarkable middle-class element in the social tensions in Calcutta. There are more protests embodied in Calcutta's "crimes" than the desire to do harm to or even to gain from others. Not until 1971 does robbery lead murder in Calcutta. But Calcutta lost her middle-class innocence in 1971. That year, not only did robbery take a lead over murder, robbery and murder reached their all-time record against substantial falls in labour unrest and even riot. It was only in 1974 that murder rose slightly above. That year riot was at the peak of its second wave, and labour dispute at its all-time high.


46I owe much of this paper to a very responsible friend who chose to be anonymous and to my colleague, Mrs. Nirmala Banerjee. I have also benefited from discussions with Prof. Sunti Munsi and Prof. Asok Sen of the CSSSC. I have received Statistical assistance from Mrs. Rita Banerjee. The preliminary graphs have been drawn by Miss Anjushri Chakraborty.



Table 9.3: Thefts in cities (per thousand inhabitants)

Table 9.3: Thefts in cities (per thousand inhabitants)

Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 1.75

Table 9.4: Robberies in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Table 9.4: Robberies in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 1.11

Table 9.5: Murders in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Table 9.5: Murders in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Calcutta average 1970-71 = 1.65

Table 9.6: Riots in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Table 9.6: Riots in cities (per lakh inhabitants)

Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 15.03
Madras average excluding 1962 = 4.72

Table 9.7: Man-days lost in States (1961-74)

Table 9.7: Man-days lost in States (1961-74)

Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 3,892,001


1 Mitra, A., Calcutta Indias City, Calcutta, New Age Publishers Pvt. Ldt., 1963, p. 29.

2 Moorhouse, G., Calcutta, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, caption in photograph No. 1, 1971.

3 Ibid., pp. 4-5.

4 Mackenzie, W.J.M., Power, Violence, Decision, London, Penguin, 1975, p. 39.

5 Domenach, J.M., "The Ubiquity of Violence", International Social Science Journal, XXX, 4, 1978, p. 719.

6 Spitz, P., "Silent Violence: Famine and inequality", ibid., p. 867.

7 Gurr, T.R., Why Men Rebel, Princeton University Press, 1970, p. 160.

8 Khan, R., "Violence and socio-economic development", International Social Science Journal, op. cit., pp. 834-837.

9 Klapp, O.E., Currents of Unrest: An Introduction to Collective Behaviour, New York, Holl, Reinhart and Winston, Inc., 1972, p. 45.

10 Ibid., p. 49.

11 Ibid., p. 137.

12 Ibid., pp. 53-54.

13 Ibid., p. 55.

14 Ibid., p. 191.

15 Crime in India, Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Delhi (Annual).

16 Indian Labour Statistics, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Rehabilitation, Government of India, Delhi (Annual).

17 Crime in India 1962, p. 12.

Notes de fin

1 This paper, with a few changes, and without charts and appendix, was published under the title "Social tensions in Calcutta: a comparative study within the frame of urban crimes in India" in The Indian Journal of Social Work, Bombay, vol. 14, No. 2, July 1983 (pp. 113-124) (J.R.).

2 Kanpur was the biggest urban agglomeration of Uttar Pradesh in 1971, with 1,275,000 inhabitants. It retained its rank in 1981, with 1,688,000 inhabitants, while Lucknow, the state capital, just crossed the 1,000,000 mark (J.R.).

3 1970-71 were in Calcutta the years of maximum Naxalite activities, the revolutionaries proning "the annihilation of class enemy", and the police being prompt to counter attack in various violent ways. 1962 was in Madras the year of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagam's strong agitation against the local Congress government (J.R.).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 9.1. Thefts, robberies and murders in five indian metropolises, 1961-1975
Fichier image/jpeg, 218k
Légende Fig. 9.2. Riots and man-days lost in five Indian metropolises, 1961-1975
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Légende Fig. 9.3. Thefts, robberies, murders, riots and man-days lost in Calcutta, 1961-1975
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Table 9.3: Thefts in cities (per thousand inhabitants)
Légende Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 1.75
Fichier image/jpeg, 170k
Titre Table 9.4: Robberies in cities (per lakh inhabitants)
Légende Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 1.11
Fichier image/jpeg, 175k
Titre Table 9.5: Murders in cities (per lakh inhabitants)
Légende Calcutta average 1970-71 = 1.65
Fichier image/jpeg, 183k
Titre Table 9.6: Riots in cities (per lakh inhabitants)
Légende Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 15.03Madras average excluding 1962 = 4.72
Fichier image/jpeg, 182k
Titre Table 9.7: Man-days lost in States (1961-74)
Légende Calcutta average excluding 1970-71 = 3,892,001
Fichier image/jpeg, 255k

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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