Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crime Rate, Books, Kolkata and Amartya Sen

... not necessarily in that order.

Background- The London Bookfair 2009, where the market focus this year is India. Speakers have included Amartya Sen, Vikram Seth, Sunil Gangyopadhyay, Anita Nair, Dalrymple, Prasoon Joshi, among a host of other Indian writers in English and vernacular languages.

Amartya Sen who took the podium on the first day, 20th April went on to link crime rate and love for books. He commented that Kolkata has "the lowest crime rates in the world due to the civilising effect of books", reported The Telegraph.

Excerpts from his speech:
  • “Does the culture of books influence the life of the city in any profound way?”
  • “To consider one remarkable feature, Calcutta has, by a long margin, the lowest crime rate in the world, including the incidence of homicide and murder. While the number of murders per hundred thousand people per year varies between 2 and 10 per year in many cities in Europe and America, and between 15 and 50 per year in many cities in Africa and Latin America, the homicide rate in impoverished Calcutta is only 0.3 per cent — a fraction of the rate in any other city in the world.”
  • “Indian cities generally have low murder rates, around 2.7 on the average (rather like London but much lower than American cities like New York or Chicago), but Calcutta in particular beats them all — even the famously peaceful towns of Singapore and Hong Kong — in terms of the lowness of homicide rates.”
  • “Does the peculiar love of books and culture, and here I would add Calcutta’s fondness for theatre, too (often produced at very low cost), have a role here? I don’t really know, and there is no rigorous work on this that has properly tested any of the possible hypotheses.”
  • “It is abundantly clear that the standard explanation of crime in terms only of economic poverty does not tell us much about the incidence and causation of violent crime, including homicide. There is certainly some research to be done here.”

Like all Kolkatans he also has his heart strings tied with College Street and said that these stalls teeming with books have influenced many a brilliant mind including Satyajit Ray and even himself.

  • “It was in one of the College Street bookshops, called Dasgupta’s, that my friend Sukhamoy Chakravarty found at the end of 1951 a copy of a recent book by a brilliant economist Kenneth Arrow, which would radically influence my direction of work. I often wondered whether my life would have gone very differently had my friend, Sukhamoy, not been such a book hound.”

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