That official data underestimate the rates of crime against women is something almost everyone agrees on. But for the first time, two surveys on crime in the Capital offer an opportunity to compare police station data with the experience of women.

The only official source of data is the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual ‘Crime in India’ publication. The NCRB collates national figures from State Crime Records Bureaus which put together the number of First Information Reports (FIRs) and other data from every police station in the State. According to this data, India had 24,923 rape cases in 2012, 45,351 cases of molestation and 9,173 cases of verbal harassment of women. This works out to four out of every 1 lakh women being raped every year, a number treated with incredulity, if not dismissal, by women’s rights groups who say the real number must be far higher.

The best way to verify the accuracy of NCRB data would be through survey data, but India does not officially survey men or women on crime experienced by them. Two police committees have recommended this in the past and within the NCRB, too, there are efforts to begin such a survey. Countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom use such surveys in conjunction with police data on crime.

However, two recent surveys for Delhi by NGOs allow some limited comparison with the NCRB data for the city and, potentially, indications of what a national survey might find.

Last week, the Delhi Government released the 2013 Human Development Report prepared by research organisation the Institute for Human Development. For the Report, IHD conducted a ‘Perception Survey’ of 8,000 respondents – each from a separate household – sampled to be representative of the city’s demographic mix. Among a host of other questions, the surveyors asked respondents about perceptions of safety as well as their actual experience of crime.

According to the IHD survey, only 0.1 per cent of respondents said that they themselves or someone in their family had experienced sexual assault and 0.6 per cent had experienced sexual harassment. While these numbers may seem small, the NCRB data for Delhi in comparison are 0.008% for both rape and molestation. This implies that while 100 out of every 1 lakh women said they had experienced rape as per the IHD statistics, the corresponding number was just 8 out of every 1 lakh according to the NCRB data.

Preet Rustagi, who is the Chair on human development issues for the Delhi government and IHD joint director, cautions that the numbers should not be compared directly because the survey was not designed specifically to measure crimes against women. “One of the important things our survey points to, however, is the high levels of sexual harassment experienced by women in Delhi,” says IHD associate fellow Amrita Datta.

Similar high levels of physical and verbal sexual harassment were the big takeaway from a 2010 survey by the Delhi-based women’s rights group, Jagori, of 5,000 persons across all the nine districts, for a research project supported by the Delhi government, UNIFEM and UN-HABITAT. The sample covered diverse occupational categories but was not randomised. The survey found that 81 per cent of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment, 31 per cent had experienced physical harassment, 10 per cent a violent physical attack and 3.8 per cent had experienced rape. “Rape is something on which there is a broad consensus that it is a serious crime. However, there is an extremely high level of ongoing sexual harassment that the official data cannot capture because it is not reported,” says Kalpana Viswananth, senior advisor at Jagori’s Safe Delhi initiative.

Among a host of other questions, the respondents were asked about their perceptions of safety and actual experience of crime