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HomeCRIMEControlling Crime in India: “Fancy Windows” theory   

Controlling Crime in India: “Fancy Windows” theory   

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“Fancy Windows” Theory states that if the police punish the rich and the powerful, small-time criminals would be discouraged from pursuing crime.
Pic (Left to Right) New York Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudi Guiliani

In the USA, a theory called “Broken Windows” for controlling crimes was developed in 1982. It was popularized in the 1990s by the then New York City mayor Rudi Guiliani and his pet police commissioner William Bratton. In this article, I show that the “Broken Windows” approach has no relevance to the Indian historical, socio-economic and political realities. Tragically, due to the ‘white skin complex’, it has been fashionable and even adopted subconsciously by police departments in India without ever questioning whether it is applicable to the unique Indian context.

For the first time in the history of Indian policing and criminology, I have hereby developed a new approach for crime control christened “Fancy Windows” theory.

The “Broken Windows” Theory

Broken Window and Prof George Kelling a social scientist who coined the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement

It was developed by social scientists George Kelling and James Wilson. In simple words, it means aggressively pursuing minor crimes supposedly to reduce the rate of major crimes. I am not using the word petty crimes because many Indian states have a legal definition for petty crimes. I am using the generic word minor crimes.

The theory is based entirely on presumptions without any empirical evidence. It imagined that if there are broken windows or windows with graffiti in a neighborhood and if they are quickly repaired or removed, the neighborhood tends to maintain its appearance of order and care. On the other hand, if the damage or graffiti are not repaired or removed, more graffiti, vandalism, and damage appears. It presumed that by maintaining social order and behavior at a lower level, criminality and disorder at higher levels will not occur. Why, they never bothered to explain.

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In practice, it translated into issuing tickets (challan in Indian parlance) and arresting people, that is, small-time criminals for minor crimes and hoping that it would have a salutary effect on big-time criminals, and bring down rate of major crimes. It was called ‘broken windows policing’, ‘order-maintaining policing’ or ‘quality-of-life policing’.

In India, the subconscious adaptation of the “Broken Windows” theory is reflected in young officers flaunting their chasing down poor sex workers, or people playing cards with some money, etc. before a gushing media.

The theory has been debunked for its unfounded presumptions and consequences. Kimberly Vered Shashoua, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, for example, pointed out that it led to biased policing practices and unnecessarily criminalized un-housed people and low socioeconomic status households. Eventually in 2016, the NYPD conceded  that it had no impact on the city’s crime rate.

Is It Relevant in India?

The “Broken Window” theory has absolutely no relevance to India. We do not have that kind of neighborhoods or criminals in India. We are concerned about ourselves; who cares what happens to the neighborhood? Forget about the ‘broken windows’, we do not give a damn about knee-deep water-logging in our colonies with snakes crawling, or streetlights missing as long as the lane in front of our house is dry and the streetlight there is working. 

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Indian public is historically given to suffering in silence, whether it is the depredations of criminals or absolute inaction of police and administration. If the rate of thefts, chain-snatching, mobile-snatching, accidents due to rash driving, molestations by roadside loafers, robberies or even rapes and murders increases in a town, local papers make some noise for a couple of days. Then gradually, everybody’s consternation subsides.

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The media latches on to new sensational stories from other spheres of life, such as minute-to-minute coverage of the pre-wedding celebrations of some billionaire’s son in his ancestral village or in Spain. People accept the increased crime rate as their fate; and start locking their houses securely, or asking their daughters to avoid going out alone in the nights. Your safety or survival is your problem, not that of the administration or government. The administration might perhaps indulge in some symbolic acts or gimmickry like patrol cars zooming by with sirens blaring and red-blue top lights flashing.  

Eventually, the higher crime rate becomes the new normal. Precisely for that reason, the country is in the state it is today.  

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Crimes, Criminals and Criminality in India

Crimes, criminals and criminality arise and thrive for entirely different reasons in India than in the West. In their myopic worldview and preconceived notions, left-liberal sociologists and criminologists have been habitually attributing them to socio-economic factors like poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and their having been ‘deprived’ victims of various types of injustices etc. Such myths have been hardened and driven into the collective subconscious through a glamourized portrayal of criminals in Indian films, which go out of the way to evoke sympathy for the ‘incidental’ criminals.

Fact is, while pickpockets might be poor, dangerous criminals like dacoits have never been poor. The notorious, murderous “Thuggee gangs” of 19th century, whom Maj. Gen. Sir William Henry Sleeman had ruthlessly suppressed, far from being a colonial construct as it is fashionable to suggest, had been compulsive robbers since the 13th century. They robbed and murdered for valuables and were not starving people. Dacoits of Chambal ravines and elsewhere, who ravaged parts of several states (notably, UP, MP, Rajasthan, Bihar and Haryana) until the 1970s, looted huge quantities of valuables in every dacoity, which they spent on their arms and ammunition and various other indulgences like whore-mongering. Modern-day Mafiosi, goondas, gangsters and criminals belonging to organized crime gangs also lead lavish lifestyles in hotels, bars and foreign countries.

Our System Inherently Favors the Rich and the Powerful

During his farewell speech on May 6, 2020, Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court had candidly accepted that our laws and legal system are geared in favour of the rich and powerful. Justice Gupta said the system usually went into a tizzy if a rich person was put behind bars. Applications for his bail and expediting his trial are filed repeatedly in the superior courts. His case is heard at the cost of delaying the case of the poor litigant. A Division Bench of the Bombay HC had also asked, “Are police meant to serve public or builders?”

In India, big-time criminals survive, thrive and are emboldened into continuing their nefarious activities with impunity because they know the ultimate truth that the entire system has historically been heavily biased in favour of the rich and the powerful. In fact, it goes out of the way to save them.

This bias has its origin in the essentially feudal soul of India, evidence of which we find at every corner in spite of our dallying with democracy for 77 years. Our elected representatives behave like rulers. Government officials, within their jurisdiction and powers, behave like feudal lords in dealing with the public because they know that nobody has ever been punished for not doing the work expected from him. Police officers are products of the same society and its feudal mind-set. There is no reason to believe that they would be immune to the influence of money coming from the rich and pressure coming from the powerful.

No wonder, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, presently serving a 20 year sentence since 2017 for rapes, with two life terms for murder to come after that, was granted as many as nine paroles/furloughs since October 2020 until January 2024. The fabulously rich God-man wields enormous political clout due to sheer number of his followers. His last parole was for 50 days even as the law, as stipulated in the Haryana Good Conduct Prisoners (Temporary Release) Act, 1988, imposes severe restrictions for grant of temporary release, allowing only 48 to 96 hours of temporary release under an armed police escort. This prompted the Punjab and Haryana High Court to ask the Haryana government in March 2024 not to consider granting parole to him without the court’s permission. Yet, he has the audacity to request the HC again in June for 21 days furlough for a ‘sewadar shradhanjali bhandara’. A bhandara, you see! The petition will be heard on July 2.

No wonder, in the notorious Pune Porsche run-over case of May, the blood sample of the rich brat accused was replaced with his mother’s at Sassoon General Hospital by two senior government doctors so as to not show presence of alcohol in the blood. Two other blood samples taken of the friends in car were also replaced by those of their kin.

You might have also heard of the ‘Geri’ culture amongst rich brats of Chandigarh and their harassment of women. A thousand other examples can be cited but intelligent readers should be able to get the drift. 

Fundamental Difference between Crimes by the Rich and the Poor

The social conflict theory of criminology simplistically presumes that the unequal distribution of wealth and power in society contribute to the frequency of crime. It says the rich commit crimes to gain more wealth and maintain their powerful status, while the poor commit crimes to try to alleviate their financial struggles. The theory has no relevance to India and underlines the pitfalls of blindly accepting Western theories.

For the rich and the powerful in India, committing crimes is a proven method of projecting their ‘power’, be it based on money, muscle, caste or political connections, whatever. That’s why we find rich brats in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana etc. threatening the cops every day, “Tu jaanata hai mera baap kaun hai? (You know who my father is?)” Such people commit crimes due to their acute sense of entitlement. They know that India and Indians have always believed in ‘Samarath ke nahin dosh gusaiin” (that is, fault is never found with the powerful) and as such, nothing would ever happen to them. While a relatively less privileged criminal might commit a crime for material gains, for these guys it is more for the ‘kicks’. Small-time criminals take chances in committing crimes; big-time criminals commit them as a matter of right. The most horrible and disturbing crimes are committed by the rich and the powerful, and not the deprived ones. Through their crimes, they enjoy challenging the might of the State and mocking it. By frustrating all attempts of the system to bring them to justice, they have actually reduced the system to a whore.

The “Fancy Windows” Theory

The “Broken Windows” theory derived its name from poor neighbourhoods where the economic condition of the residents did not permit them to repair their broken windows. Without stating in so many words, the theory presumed that small-time criminals, who sprang from there or operated there, were also poor. In contrast, ‘fancy windows’ refer to rich and powerful people.  

My “Fancy Windows” Theory states that if the police and the criminal justice system develop the moral courage to target, prosecute and secure convictions against big-time criminals belonging to the rich and the powerful, small-time criminals would be automatically discouraged and deterred from pursuing a career in crime.

Small-time criminals know that the rich and the powerful get away literally with murder. They emulate and try to get promoted to the ranks of big-time criminals not just because of the much greater amount of money they could make, but also for the complete impunity they enjoy from the law.

If they discover that somehow the police and the criminal justice system have become fair and impartial, they would lose both heart and the compulsive desire to join the big league. That would automatically reduce both their numbers and the number of crimes they commit.

Targeting the rich and the powerful will thus have a cascading effect. The message will instantly percolate down to the small-time criminal that if the rich and the powerful that have, since centuries, enjoyed complete impunity, are not safe from the long arm of the law, how could they be.

Realistically speaking, I know, expecting unbiased, fearless or favourless treatment to all is expecting too much from a system whose soul remains deeply feudal. Still, if we ever resolve to control crimes, this is the key.

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 56 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


  1. I am in perfect agreement with you in controlling crime ” Fancy Windows ” But is it possible in our country? I lost trust in justice when present CJI worked under pressure of some one, attended call three time and finally ensured bail to Teesta Seetalvad by getting SC opened on Saturday night and constituting one bench after another. Whereas in my own case against a mighty builder though law provides an opportunity to be heard to me but not a single opportunity is provided to be heard to me unheard benefit is given to the mighty builder a clear example and evidence ” money power overrides law power”
    Thanks and regards for providing opportunity to read such a realistic article.


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