Women and Crime Incidence Fallacies: Safety, a Reporting Brownie Point or Actuality?

Recently released data by 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 lacs+ cases in the year. About 50% of the total crimes against women were concentrated in 5 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 UP is 6.5 times 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 law enforcement system, encouraging them to voice and effectively report crimes against them.

Taking cue from this skewedness, to make more informed judgements around safety for women, it goes that we consider the regional differences in reporting patterns. To examine the actual extent of ‘adequate reporting’ (which may still constitute a lower than real incidence rate) and under-reporting by various states, an analysis is drawn between ‘Crimes against Women’ with all ‘Other Crimes’. We postulate that for any state, these two categories of crimes would be reported to a similar extent. It is found that the total reporting of ‘Other Crimes’ is in-fact strongly correlated to ‘Crimes against Women’ with a correlation coefficient of 0.7 for 2019.

Pitting the deviation from national average for ‘Crimes against Women’ against that of ‘Other Crimes’ for states, it was expected that the two measures would more or less be comparable. However, two categories of states displayed apparent discrepancies. One comprised of states that might have ‘adequately reported’ the numbers, as they reported higher than expected ‘Crimes against Women’ vis-à-vis ‘Other Crimes’. These included Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.

National Crime Records Bureau Crime Against Women State

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we find that Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala and Delhi have reported excessively lower than expected incidence of ‘Crimes against Women’, in comparison to that of ‘Other Crimes’ – indicating a gross under-reporting of ‘Crimes against Women’. The reasons for these anomalies may originate from both, ability and willingness of women to report crimes, and attitude of law enforcement towards lodging such cases.

Benchmarking the crime to female population ratio for women in Assam and Rajasthan – two states in the ‘adequate reporting’ analysis with the greatest and smallest difference in positive crime deviations – to rest of the states shows that crimes against women in India could be under-reported to the tune of 75% (taking Rajasthan as benchmark) to 181% (taking Assam as 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 found that two extreme groups of states have done relatively well in SDG 5 achievement – ones that have reported the highest crimes against women, and others which reported dwindling incidences of the same.

State Sustainable Development Goals SDGs

Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which contributed 40% of total crimes against women, had the highest levels of SGD 5 score. It may be so that the governance and law-enforcement is relatively proactive to trigger action for women-related crime incidences (reflecting in high SDG 5 score) leading to high women related crime reporting. Another reason could be greater extent of women’s empowerment in the states, which in turn enables them to come forward and report incidences of crimes against them.

On the other end, Chhattisgarh and Punjab have shown high SDG 5 index scores along with lower reporting of ‘Crimes against Women’, which can be hypothesized 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 tangible form: their participation rates in public, economic and political life.

Indicator Law Enforcement Women Crime

Thus, it bodes well to conclude that scrutiny and impugn 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 go through.

This article is co-authored with Ms. Mannat Singh and first appeared in Financial Express on 13 November 2020.