Violence against women in India, behind the data

On the International Day of Eliminating Violence Against Women, Ranjana Das from Oxfam India explores official crime statistics to see if there is still a culture of impunity for violence against women in India.

The Delhi gang-rape case of last December 2012 shocked the world and became a turning point in the prolonged history of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in India. In the aftermath of this crime, the media has increased its reporting of incidents of VAWG, there have been nationwide protests by civil society groups and the police and judiciary have been challenged to improve vigilance and the speed of dealing with crimes. 

85.1% of rape cases investigated in 2012 were still awaiting trial. Against this backdrop, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released its report for 2012. The NCRB is the only official source of crime data in India, so the data in this report provides useful insights into whether VAWG is still being met with impunity in India. 

The NCRB report covers data for the stages through which a crime can pass, from being reported to conviction. In order to make sense of the data for rape cases, it’s worth listing these stages here:

  • Crime reported 
  • First Information Report (FIR) filed by police
  • Investigation completed
  • Police prepare a report to establish the case (known as charge sheeting)
  • Trial
  • Conviction

Now let’s see those stages again, alongside the NCRB data for rape cases in 2012:

  • Rape reported – no data available
  • First Information Report (FIR) is filed by police – FIRs filed for rape rose by 2.9% in 2012
  • Investigation is completed – 63.9% of rape cases were investigated in 2012
  • Police officially document the crime (charge sheeting) – 95% of cases investigated were ‘charge-sheeted’
  • Trial – fewer than 15% of rape cases came to trial in 2012
  • Conviction – 24.2% of rape trials resulted in a conviction in 2012

Is the high charge-sheet rate a cause for celebration? Sadly, no. The charge-sheet rate is based on the total number of cases for which investigation is completed by the police, which in 2012 was 63.9%. And, for a crime to be investigated it first needs to be registered.

Download Ending violence against women an Oxfam guide.

 In Oxfam India’s intervention state of Andhra Pradesh rates are high across all crime and there have been accusations of attempts to suppress reporting of rapes due to the intense investigation required. Women’s groups in the state also suspect that political parties are pressuring police to under-report cases of VAWG. It is clear that we need a reporting system that compares the number of cases coming to the police against the number being registered. When reporting is suppressed in this way, the situation remains the same or even worse. 

So the strikingly high charge-sheeting rate should be balanced against the fact that many cases are simply not registered; but also others are withdrawn before they can be investigated and many others are simply delayed for a long time pending investigation. A charge sheet can take years to be filed as a result of delays at every step of the process, from filing the initial report (FIR), through conducting the investigation, to submission of medical and forensic reports. Charge-sheeting has also been known to be delayed due to evidence tampering.  

We also have no way of recording the rapes that are never even reported to the police. The NCRB report revealed that close relatives or acquaintances of the victims are accused in 98% of India’s rape cases, as opposed to the traditional belief that most rape occurs when a stranger attacks a woman unknown to him. It is these assaults by people known to the victim that can be the hardest to report.

Close relatives or acquaintances of the victims are accused in 98% of India’s rape cases.Amongst the other forms of crime against women, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which covers crimes of cruelty against women, shows a rise of 7.5%. Studies conducted by Oxfam India and partners in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh indicate that a large number of Section 498A (cruelty against women) cases remain pending trial because of inadequate advice for the complainant, improper filing of the case and a lack of witnesses and evidence (the burden of which
ultimately falls on women). 

The rise in reporting of crimes against women is welcome but we still need a long way to go to improve the criminal justice system. The conviction rate is poor, hovering between a meagre 15 to 30% and there is an alarmingly high number of cases awaiting trial: 77 to 87%. Unless the criminal justice system is made more effective and accountable, both at the crime investigation and trial level, women will continue to be let down. 


Read more

Author: Ranjana Das
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.