Rochin Ramesh Chandra, 32, has a Tamil father, a Bengali mother, was schooled in Udaipur till class eight and completed his education in Chennai.
This mix proved troublesome. As an aspiring cricketer, he wanted to pursue a career with the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, but the lack of a domicile status made it complicated. He then explored a stint with the Rajasthan Cricket Association, only to face an entirely different set of challenges and discrimination.
It was this experience that pushed Chandra to think about the intricacies of justice and injustice, privilege and marginalisation that exist in society. Putting aside bat and ball, he ventured into the world of criminology, and is now one of the strongest proponents for policy changes that promote evidence-based policing and proactive crime prevention.
In 2016, while pursuing his MPhil in criminology from the Rashtriya Raksha University in Gujarat, Chandra began working with the Rajasthan Prisons Department as a training faculty at the jail training institute in Ajmer. Subsequently, he offered his services to the Jail Staff Training School in Ahmedabad.
It was during this period that he realised how averse to change the system was. “The researchers and analysts embedded within the department are often perceived as ‘outsiders’,” he says. “This perception stems from underestimating the true benefits of crime analysis and jail-specific data analysis.”
Chandra wants criminology researchers to go beyond their traditional roles within classrooms. Instead, he says, they should engage with the executive and legislative branches of government. To help this process, he launched his think tank, the Centre for Criminology and Public Policy, in 2018.
In 2020, he was appointed ‘police pracademic (practising academic)’ for a joint project called Policing Research Partnerships, initiated by the Bureau of Police Research and Development and his think tank. Under this project, Chandra conducted a comprehensive national study focused on identifying the factors contributing to convictions in POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) cases.
For criminologists to engage effectively with the police, says Chandra, they need to go for on-field investigations and surveys in crime-prone neighbourhoods. “In a drug-infested area of a northern Indian state, we conducted an undercover investigation to uncover the recruitment, grooming and coercion of boys and girls as young as 10 into the local drug trade by criminal gangs,” he says. “Many of these children come from troubled backgrounds and are enticed into the drug trade with promises of money or are offered incentives like free food and phones. Understanding the challenges faced by disadvantaged neighbourhoods is crucial in explaining the distressing recruitment of vulnerable children into drug-related activities.” He also found that children face immense pressure to conform to hypermasculine ideals, including displaying physical and verbal aggression.
Chandra says that even seemingly insignificant details can provide valuable insights into the minds of criminals. “For example, in collaboration with the Udaipur police, we conducted a study on bike thefts, chain snatching and break-ins in the city,” he says.
Interestingly, Chandra’s team discovered a direct link between bike thefts and romantic pursuits. “Students from impoverished rural areas who migrate to cities like Udaipur for education often face challenges related to social status and peer relationships,” he says. “As a result, they feel constant pressure to present themselves well, wear fashionable clothes, own an expensive phone, and have a bike. We found that many bike thefts occurred because young men wanted to impress women by taking them on rides. The stolen bikes were often abandoned after being used for joyrides.”
This sort of collaboration―Chandra’s team and Udaipur police―is what he wants to see more of. “The perspective of the policemen is rooted in the view that they are the ones with firsthand experience through field operations, and that researchers do not have the same,” he says. “It is evident that their field activities are crucial, but there is a need for structured guidance to steer their investigations and interventions.”
A CHANGE I WOULD LIKE TO SEE
“Criminology researchers face challenges fitting into the traditional hierarchy of police departments. However, integrating practising criminologists between policymakers/legislators and police departments would be beneficial in developing effective crime prevention interventions. Reactive policing needs to be replaced by proactive policing, which involves continuous engagement by the police department to understand the root causes of crime in specific high-prevalence areas.”