In India, a rape is reported every 15 minutes, according to recently released official government crime data. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2018 has stark revelations about crime in the country.

The NCRB data is usually released after two years, annually. Under the Narendra Modi government the data was inordinately delayed and some aspects are still missing. However, the data on violence against women throws up shocking figures for 2018.

Despite various federal government campaigns such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao – Educate the daughter, Save the daughter – the crime rate per 100,000 women increased to 58.8% in 2018 in comparison with 57.9% in 2017.

A recent verdict in a Delhi gang-rape case handed down after seven years leaves much to be desired.

In 2012, the case of young Delhi-based woman Jyoti Singh, christened Nirbhaya (Fearless) by the media, shook the nation. She was abducted by a group of men and repeatedly raped on a moving bus. They also mutilated her body before throwing her from the bus.

As the details of the ferocity of the attack emerged, the country erupted into protests. This led to a number of changes in India’s rape laws in the hope that speedier trials and harsher punishments would lead to fewer assaults on women.

But her case took seven years to go through India’s judicial system.

In 2013, the criminal law amendment act was passed which criminalized sexual offenses like acid attacks, voyeurism and stalking, and also provided 20-year sentences for rape and the death penalty in extreme rape cases.

A committee was set up under former Chief Justice of India J S Verma. His committee’s report pointed out systemic failures on the part of the government and the Delhi police.

The federal government also set up a special “Nirbhaya Fund” in 2013 to help women who had been attacked as well as to improve public safety for women. But none of these moves led to any decrease in the number of rapes.

The fact that most of these cases take close to a decade to finish has not helped. Studies have also meticulously recorded that the investigation and trial of such cases are traumatic for the victims.

This leads to significant discomfort and harassment for women, discouraging them from reporting any kind of violence. However, there have been several cases where courageous women have come forward and reported a crime, but the police have not registered a formal complaint.

Collusion with power

A key reason why rape cases are so poorly investigated and prosecuted in India is due to the power structures conforming to deeply patriarchal societies. Several recent cases buttress this.

In 2017, a rape case led to a major controversy. A young girl was raped by BJP state lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar, his brother and a few others. The woman’s father was beaten by Sengar’s men in police custody after he was arrested on a false charge. He died in police custody, leading to national outrage.

The official police complaint against Sengar was registered after a considerable lapse of time. Sengar’s political authority and power ensured for a long time that the police did not register her complaint, let alone investigate the allegations. Sengar was finally found guilty after the case and the trial was moved out of the state and sent to Delhi.

In another rape case, on December 12, 2018, the accused, Shivam Trivedi, was also known to the survivor. It is alleged that he and a few friends gang-raped a young woman at gunpoint. On the pretext of marrying the rape survivor, Shivam assaulted her on several occasions and even filmed it to blackmail her.

While the case continued to linger, the young woman was set ablaze, allegedly by the accused. She was not alone. In Hyderabad a similar rape took place where the woman’s body was cremated.

According to recent government data, 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017 – almost 90 per day. The National Crime Records Bureau on October 21, 2019, released its report for the year 2017, which stated that 359,849 cases of crime against women were reported in the country.

In addition, 237,660 cognizable cases were registered in 2018, in which Delhi leads over 18 other metro cities in terms of crimes, according to the 2018 edition of the Crime in India report released by the NCRB.

In 2018, 228 incidents of acid attacks were recorded across the country against 240 victims. Of these, West Bengal recorded 50 incidents involving 53 victims. In 2017, 244 acid attacks were recorded across the country.

West Bengal accounted for the highest number of cases. The NCRB report shows that West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi contributed to almost half of the acid attacks in the country. In 2018, three States – Bengal (50) Uttar Pradesh (40) and Delhi (11) – accounted for 101 of the 228 incidents, or 44% of all cases.

In 2017, Bengal (54), Uttar Pradesh (56) and Delhi (14) accounted for 124 of the 244 cases, or 50% of all attacks.

According to the Principal Offense Rule, each criminal incident is recorded as one crime. If many offenses are registered in a single FIR case, only the most heinous crime – one that attracts maximum punishment – will be considered as a counting unit.

For example, if there is an incident involving abduction, wrongful confinement, rape or gang-rape and murder, it will be listed in the NCRB data as murder. All these are separate crimes under the Indian Penal Code, but while gang-rape attracts the maximum punishment of life imprisonment, murder can lead to a death sentence.

However, the Principal Offense Rule is criticized as it tends to “hide” many crimes – in the 2012 Nirbhaya case or recent Hyderabad veterinarian’s gang-rape and murder case – because only one of the offenses would attract the maximum punishment, and hence counted in the NCRB database as one crime.

The NCRB had earlier defended the adoption of this methodology by saying data collection from police stations was done manually. And, if an incident involving abduction, rape or gang-rape and murder is counted under three different heads in the NCRB, it may lead to over-reporting of criminal incidents.

The actual number of crimes increased by 1.3% in 2018 compared with 2017. More people were murdered in 2018 with 1.3% more murder cases registered during the year than in 2017, which had witnessed a significant decline of 5.9% over 2016.

The data also shows that the rate of murders post-rape has increased, mainly because the culprits know that the chances of being given life-long punishment are high, hence they end up murdering the women after raping them.

Critics also point out that the data on deaths by lynching has still not been added. Many incidents of mob lynching took place targeting Muslims.

(The author is an education analyst and journalist)