By Garima Dhir & Mannat Singh
Recently-released data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on crimes in India for 2019 shows that, on an average, 1,111 cases of crimes against women were recorded per day in 2019, with a cumulative of 4 lakh-plus cases in the year. About 50% of the total crimes against women were concentrated in five states—Uttar Pradesh (14.7%), Rajasthan (10.2%), Maharashtra (9.2%), West Bengal (7.5%) and Assam (7.4%).
It’s interesting to note that a state like Assam, which accounts for merely 2.6% of the total female population in India, reported about half as many cases as Uttar Pradesh, even though the female population in Uttar Pradesh is 6.5x that in Assam. One reason for this incongruity may be Assam’s cultural and societal legacy as a matriarchal society. Women there may have more support from community and the law enforcement system, encouraging them to effectively report crimes against them.
Taking a cue from this skewed picture, to make more informed judgements on women’s safety, we should consider the regional differences in reporting patterns. To examine the actual extent of ‘adequate reporting’ (which may still be lower than the real incidence rate) and under-reporting in various states, an analysis of ‘Crimes against Women’ visa-a-visa all ‘other crimes’ has been attempted here.
We postulate that for any state, these two categories of crimes would be reported to a similar extent. The total reporting of ‘Other Crimes’ is strongly correlated to ‘Crimes against Women’ with a correlation coefficient of 0.7 for 2019.
While the national averages for ‘Crimes against Women’ and ‘Other Crimes’ should have been more or less comparable across states, however, two categories of states show discrepancies.
One comprised states that might have ‘adequately reported’ the numbers, as they reported higher than expected ‘Crimes against Women’ visa-à-visa ‘Other Crimes’. These included Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we find that Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala and Delhi have reported significantly lower than expected incidence of ‘Crimes against Women’, in comparison to that of ‘Other Crimes’. This indicates a gross under-reporting of ‘Crimes against Women’.
The reasons for these anomalies may originate from both the ability and willingness of women to report crimes and attitude of law enforcement towards lodging such cases.
Setting the ‘crime against women’ to ‘female population’ ratio in Assam and Rajasthan—two states in the ‘adequate reporting’ grouping with the greatest and smallest difference in positive crime deviations—as a benchmark for the rest of the states shows that crimes against women in India could be under-reported to the tune of 75% (taking Rajasthan as a benchmark) to 181% (taking Assam as a benchmark).
But does high reporting and probable crime incidence rates mean that those states are overall unsafe for women, and low levels of crimes against women indicate greater safety and inclusivity in states?
To test this, we compare the levels of reporting on crimes against women with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal-5 (Gender Parity in 2019-20) for each state.
It is observed that two extreme groups of states have done relatively well in Sustainable Development Goal-5 achievement—ones that have reported the highest crimes against women, and others which reported dwindling incidences of the same.
Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which contributed 40% of total crimes against women, had the highest levels of Sustainable Development Goal-5 score.
It may be so that the governance and law-enforcement are relatively proactive to trigger action against crimes perpetrated on women (reflecting in high Sustainable Development Goal-5 score), leading to high women-related crime reporting.
Another reason could be the greater extent of women’s empowerment in the states, which in turn enables them to come forward and report incidences of crimes against women.
On the other end, Chhattisgarh and Punjab have shown high Sustainable Development Goal-5 index scores along with lower reporting of ‘Crimes against Women’, which can be hypothesised to indicate a gender-inclusive environment or as before, greater extent of women’s empowerment in the society.
And data does agree with this. These states have outperformed others on a variety of indicators that enable us to quantify aspects of women’s lives; including levels of inclusivity or empowerment of women, or in their participation rates in public, economic and political life.
Thus, it is safe to conclude that scrutiny is important for all levels of reporting: high or low. However, it is not enough in itself to gauge safety levels for women as long as data is not consistently recorded and reported to reflect the true extent and nature of atrocities that women suffer.
Dhir is strategic relationship management head, Department for International Trade, British High Commission & Singh is consultant, EY. Views are personal