Are crimes against women on the rise? | Explained

What do data from the National Crime Records Bureau indicate for 2022? Which are the laws that deal with women’s safety? What are the hurdles in their implementation? What are the challenges that stand in the way of effective justice?

December 10, 2023 03:00 am | Updated 09:50 pm IST

‘Women in many States, particularly in rural areas, do not visit a police station without a male relative, let alone register an FIR’

‘Women in many States, particularly in rural areas, do not visit a police station without a male relative, let alone register an FIR’ | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The story so far: The crime rate may have declined in 2022 (258.1 per lakh population compared to 268 per lakh population in 2021), but crimes against women rose 4% in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released on December 4.

What was the nature of the majority of crimes against women?

The majority of crimes against women were of cruelty by husband or his relatives (31.4%), kidnapping and abduction of women (19.2%), assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (18.7%) and rape (7.1%). Further, 13,479 cases were registered under the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Activists and lawyers attribute this to a patriarchal society. “Despite high levels of education, male mindsets and societal attitude remain unchanged,” says Supreme Court lawyer Shilpi Jain. According to women’s rights activist Mariam Dhawale, India over the last few years has witnessed a strengthening of regressive value systems which women’s movements had struggled to overcome for decades. “There is a glorification of anti-women practices,” she points out. According to Jayashree Velankar, director of women’s organisation, Jagori, “dowry or bride price both connote commodity status of women who are traded between families for their productive and reproductive labour. What we need is a strong political will, and not mere rhetoric, to bring in policies and programmes that will focus on creating conditions to elevate women’s status.”

What does an increase in the registration of crimes against women indicate?

The NCRB’s report reveals that over 4.45 lakh cases of crimes against women were registered in 2022, equivalent to nearly 51 FIRs (first information report) every hour. The rate of crimes against women per lakh population stood at 66.4 while the filing of charge sheets in such cases was pegged at 75.8. The high crime rate is an indicator of the persistent “lower status and inequality” faced by women and girls, says Ms. Velankar. “Women and girls continue to be treated as permanent shock absorbers across class, caste and other axes. It is an outcome of reconstruction of patriarchy in the neo-liberal economy era,” she says. According to Ms. Jain, the increase in crimes against women shows the attitude of Indian society towards women: “We claim to be very progressive but we are very primitive.” The rise can also be attributed to the fact that though India has tough laws for protection of women, their implementation remains a challenge, she adds.

Retired IPS officer Meeran Chaddha Borwankar strikes a note of caution. “The NCRB report mainly shows that women feel confident to approach the police and get criminal cases registered,” she points out. Increase in numbers, according to her, should not be equated with increase in crime. Take the case of Delhi. With 14,247 cases in 2022, Delhi recorded the highest rate of crimes against women in the country at 144.4 per lakh, way above the country’s average rate of 66.4. Experts believe the higher numbers show that more cases are being registered in Delhi. In contrast, in many other parts of India, the registration of crime is low and the fear of the police high, says Vipul Mudgal of Common Cause India, an NGO. Women in many States, particularly in the rural areas, would not even visit a police station unaccompanied by a male relative, let alone register an FIR for sexual harassment or domestic violence, he says.

Ms. Borwankar feels that women in the capital are aware of their rights and therefore approach police stations more freely than in the hinterland. “At the same time, I am aware that the capital and most parts of north India is not considered safe for women especially at night.”

What are the key laws for women’s safety?

Some of the key laws for women’s safety in India are: The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. Experts say that implementation faces dual problems of shoddy investigation by police and time taken by courts to deliver justice. “The laws are good and were so even earlier. The problem is with policing,” says Ms. Jain. There is a severe lack of police officers with requisite training for investigations. Most of the investigating officers are juniors with a poor pay scale. This hampers the actual investigation and preparation of chargesheets, she points out. When it reaches the courts, at trial courts which are the first step, the cases take four to five years. If there is an appeal, it takes another 10-15 years. Despite fast-track courts for looking into grievous crimes, the fact is they remain as slow as ever. There is no seriousness in dealing with the crime, adds Ms. Jain.

Another factor, according to Mr. Mudgal, is that while women police officers are involved in all crimes against women, their proportion in the force is dismal and the rate of their recruitment is very slow in all States without exception. This also causes disproportionate levels of workload on women police personnel leading to slower rates of charge-sheeting and convictions. According to a response provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Rajya Sabha in February 2023, the representation of women in the police force (as of January 1, 2022) remained at 11.7% of the total state police force. This puts undue stress on the limited workforce leading to a high pendency, experts point out.

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