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Making sense of crime statistics

The crime datasets presented in the latest Crime in India-2021 report released by the National Crime Record Bureau


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  31 Aug 2022 3:02 AM GMT

The crime datasets presented in the latest Crime in India-2021 report released by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) need to be looked beyond number crunching. Comparing the crime statistics with associated socio-economic indices is essential for scientific analysis of the updated datasets. Rushing to conclusions based on a cursory reading of various datasets under different crime heads could be erroneous. A correct analysis of crime data is essential for the formulation of an effective crime control strategy and to settle the debate if the increase in the number of registered cases is a reflection of rising crime in society. The NCRB argues in the report that the primary presumption that the upward swing in police data indicates an increase in crime and thus a reflection of the ineffectiveness of the police is fallacious. It insists that 'rise in crime' and 'increase in registration of crime by police are "clearly two different things, a fact which requires better understanding." The national bureau, which serves as the apex repository of information on crimes and criminals in the country, acknowledges that "the increase or decrease in crime numbers, however, call for a professional investigation of underlying factors jointly with local communities to suitably address the issues involved." This word of caution by the NCRB, however, does not answer all questions that arise after a careful reading of the annual report. The NCRB's admission of the limitation of its annual report that the socio-economic causative factors or reasons for crimes are not being captured and only police recorded crime cases are captured reminds the users of the statistics to develop a theoretical framework to interpret the data for a correct assessment of the ground situation. While the increase in the number of crime registration may not indicate a rise in such crimes, the registration of the cases itself points towards the occurrence of crimes. For citizens, the prevention of crime is more important to ensure the protection of their lives and properties and a crime-free society that the argument that the numbers indicate a rise in crime or an increase in registered cases. Statistics on crime against women and children included in the report, for instance, showed an increase in registered cases compared to the previous year and also point towards their vulnerability in society, irrespective of whether the numbers have risen due to more reporting on account of facilitating e-FIR or creation of women helpdesk etc. The report states that a total of 4,28,278 cases of crime against women were registered in 2021, showing an increase of 15.3% over 2020 (3,71,503 cases). The majority of cases under crime against women were registered under 'Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives' (31.8%) followed by 'Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty' (20.8%), 'Kidnapping & Abduction of Women' (17.6%) and 'Rape' (7.4%). The increased crime rate registered per lakh women population increased to 64.5 in 2021 in comparison with 56.5 in 2020 calls for identifying the gaps and urgently addressing them with socio-economic interventions apart from strengthening the existing criminal justice system to prevent a recurrence. An increase in the number of cases under 'Crime against children by 16.2% over 2020 has unveiled another worrying picture. The report brings to light that in percentage terms, major crime heads under 'Crime Against Children' during 2020 were Kidnapping and Abduction (45.0%) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (38.1%) including child rape. Fast-tracking the investigations and trials in cases against women and children and meting out exemplary punishment can have a deterrent action against potential crimes but requires setting up more courts, the appointment of judges strengthening police investigations through the improvement of forensic laboratory support, recruitment of more police personnel and imparting of special training. The inclusion of data under the transgender category limited to data on persons arrested, persons charge-sheeted, a person convicted, persons discharged, and persons acquitted in the report is a laudable improvement over the previous publication. In absence of authentic data on the transgender population due to the lack of their documentation and the absence of the required ecosystem to facilitate it, data in this category is most likely to be deficient and will need further improvement in subsequent publications of the annual crime report. States and union territories undertaking scientific research of crime data included in the NCRB report can be useful to identify significant rural-urban crime trends based on analysis of data for advanced and backward regions. Collaboration between the state governments and universities can help find answers to many critical questions on prevailing crime situations and patterns which are needed to formulate an effective crime control strategy. Interpretation of crime datasets disconnected from the socio-economic realities of victims and perpetrators cannot be expected to provide the answers. Interpretation of the NCRB report needs to go beyond the headlines of increase or decrease of numbers under a particular crime head or a mere comparison among states.

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