Urban Indian Crimescape

In this edition of ‘Qafe’ Paramita Banerjee interrogates certain aspects of urban living in India especially its crime density (relating to women and nature of crime) and reveals the discrepancies in the steady growth of urbanisation …

The hullabaloo about Clean India and the quick extension of the campaign to cover urban agglomerates of the country got this qafeteer to inspect elements of urban living in India. As per the 2011 Census, the urban population of India stands at 31.16%, as against 27.86% in the 2001 Census. This is reflexive of the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-11) that had marked cities to be “the locus and engine of economic growth over the next two decades” (The Planning Commission of India, 2008). The 12th Five Year Plan, however, rues that urbanisation in India has “occurred more slowly than in other developing countries”, while simultaneously admitting that any increase in the speed of urbanisation would pose “an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge” since “urban infrastructure will fall woefully short of what is needed to sustain prosperous cities.” (http://12thplan.gov.in/12fyp_docs/17.pdf)

There is official acknowledgement, therefore, even by the earlier government, that urban living in India is yet to match international standards of ‘prosperous cities’ – whatever they might signify. However, does poor infrastructure imply inadequacy in transport and communications, accommodation and other civic amenities only – or does it also reflect on the safety aspect of our cities?  This query drove me to take a look at the crime scene in our cities and the graffiti that emerged isn’t exactly reassuring. The source of information is the Crime in India 2012 Compendium brought out by the National Crimes Record Bureau (henceforth NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, on 4th June, 2013 – the latest available as far as comprehensive data is concerned. This publication has an entire chapter (Chapter 2) dedicated to crimes in mega cities – an indication that these spaces occupy a significant enough position in the country’s map to get this special attention. It is, of course, redundant to add that there is no corresponding chapter on crimes in rural India.

Just to ensure that the readers of this column do not find me writing in Greek or Hebrew, or Latin or Sanskrit for that matter, a little detour into the jargon used by the Compendium. Crimes in the country are listed under two different sets: crimes under the Indian Penal Code (henceforth IPC) and crimes under Special & Local Laws (henceforth SLL). The major ones amongst IPC crimes are crimes against body (murder, attempt to murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, kidnapping and abduction, hurt and causing death by negligence); crimes against property (dacoity, preparing for dacoity, robbery, burglary and theft); crimes against public order (riots and arson); and economic crimes (criminal breach of trust, cheating and counterfeiting). Now, in common language, of course, dacoity and robbery, burglary and theft are used as interchangeable – but the penal code of the country obviously defines them as separate and distinct from each other. Since the aim is to get an overall idea of the crimescape of urban India, it is not necessary to get into the legal details of such difference. Major crimes under SLL relate to illegal possession and use of arms, explosives and explosive substances, of narcotics, psychotropic substances and alcohol (in case of states which prohibit it); gambling; excise related offences; offences related to the railways; passport and illegal immigration related offences; forest, art and antiquities related crimes; cyber crimes; copyright violations and atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Over and above these are crimes against women and children, which combine offences under IPC and SLL.

Going back to crimes in cities, the Compendium defines mega cities as those with a population of over one million, which have increased from 35 in 2001 to 53 in 2011. These 53 mega cities constitute just 13.3% of the country’s population, but the crime rate (calculated as number of crimes per 100,000 population) with reference to offences under the Indian Penal Code (henceforth IPC) stands at 294.2, as against the national rate of 196.7. If the entire urban agglomeration is taken into account, the rate is even higher at 294.7. Except in ten of the 53 mega cities, the crime rate is also higher than in their respective states. (Those interested may check out the comparative details in Table 2 (A) on page 44 of the Compendium, which can be easily downloaded from ncrb.gov.in). The crime rate with reference to SLL crimes was more than twice the national average in mega cities: 685.2 in the latter as compared to 301.2 nationally. The Compendium also mentions that such crimes in 2012 decreased by 15.5% at the national level in comparison to 2011, but the reduction rate in the mega cities has been a meagre 3.9%. Except in ten among the 53 mega cities, the crime rate is also higher than that in their respective states. In a nutshell, then, Indian cities are certainly more unsafe than the rest of India as locations of crimes committed. An inevitable fallout of the emphasis on urbanisation maybe.

When one utters the term ‘cities’ in the context of India, some names immediately come to mind: Bengaluru (better known as Bangalore), Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai. These prime Indian cities do not disappoint in terms of holding pride of place with reference to crime rates either. Not all of them, anyway.  Mumbai, reputed to be the financial capital of India, reported the highest incidence of IPC crimes in 2012: a total of 30,508 cases throughout the year. An average of nearly 84 offences committed every day of the year. Bengaluru, known till the other day as the cyber capital of the country, came a close second with 29,297 cases at an average of slightly more than 80 crimes per day. Not to be defeated in the race for glory in the crimescape of the country, Kolkata – the erstwhile cultural capital of the country according to popular sayings – occupied third position with 25,370 offences during the year with an average of 69.5 cases per day. If the residents of Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad are about to heave a sigh of relief because these names do not feature as the top three crime-spots, they better hold their breath for a little longer. Chennai reported the highest number of deaths by negligence: 1411 cases in 2012 – nearly 4 such deaths per day. Hyderabad ranks ninth among the top 23 cities and districts of the country with reference to the number of IPC crimes committed. Delhi’s share of IPC crimes committed stands at 10.1% of the entirety of mega city crimes, but its share in violent crimes (that include murder and attempt to murder; culpable homicide not amounting to murder; dacoity and preparation for dacoity; rape; kidnapping and abduction; riot and arson) is as high as 34.7% of the national total. Of course, the violent crime rate refers to the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi, rather than to just the city – but then, as high s 97.5% of that population is urban as per the 2011 Census.

It is the crime scene in the not-so-talked about cities that present interesting information. Kochi (formerly Cochin) in Kerala, one of the most advanced states of the country as per the Human Development Index (henceforth HDI), tops the crime chart with a rate of 817.9. Undoubtedly, food for debates on whether the rate is highest because of improved reporting owing to the high literacy rate in the city. However, Indore at second position with 762.6 and Gwalior at third with a rate of 709.3 would not contribute much towards substantiating the improved reporting argument since these two do not feature very high as per HDI. Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu reflected 157% increase in 2012 in comparison to 2011: the highest rate of increase among the mega cities. These are cities that hardly feature in mass media at the national level, but obviously have features worth exploring for a better understanding of why the crime rates there are so high.

The real nature of our cities become clear when one probes the nature of crimes committed there. The top three crimes committed in mega cities relate to auto thefts (41.9% of the national total), cheating (28.6% of the national total) and counterfeiting (27.8% of the national total) – which stands to reason. After all, more autos ply in cities than in villages; and cities are also the acknowledged centres of economic activities, so that economic crimes would naturally be concentrated there. The smartness and sophistication of our cities emerges as spectacular in the simple fact that the child sex ratio in urban India is 19 points lower (905 girls: 1000 boys) than rural India, as per the 2011 Census. The Compendium reports a rise of 59.1% in foeticide in 2012 over the previous year. The word ‘female’ is conspicuous in its absence, but can be easily inferred without much scope for any fallacy, since medical termination of pregnancy is not a crime in India; only sex selective abortion is. NCRB does not present an urban-rural comparison for this increase, but the sex ratio in itself is a pointer to where cases of female foeticide could be concentrated – urban or rural India.

As far as crimes against women are concerned, the country as a whole reflects an alarming rate of 41.74 per one million population, with the rate standing significantly higher at 47.76 in the 53 mega cities.  It needs to be remembered in this context that these are crimes committed specifically against women, thereby excluding women who may have fallen victim to any of the general crimes. The national and political capital of the country – Delhi – dazzles in all its glory in this sphere. It accounts for 14.2% of the national total of crimes against women. The top five crimes committed against girls and women in Delhi are: kidnapping and abduction – 23.1% of the total in mega cities; rape – 19.3%; trafficking cases – 16.5%; dowry deaths – 14.6%; cruelty by husbands and relatives – 11.1%. If these figures seem not too high, it would be worthwhile to reiterate that Delhi is only one among 53 mega cities that collectively represent only 13.3% of the country’s population.

Owing to the horrifying rape incident of December 2013, the lack of safety and security for women in Delhi had been in national media focus for quite a while. How would it feel to know that Bengaluru accounts for as high as 63.2% of the cases registered in mega cities under the Dowry Prohibition Act? This city also holds second position among the 53 mega cities with reference to crimes against girls and women with a share of 6.2%. Kolkata, believed by many to be a city safe for girls and women, stands third with a share of 5.7%. However, it is again the lesser known cities that present an even more disturbing picture. While the overall rate of crimes against women in the mega cities stands at 47.8 (as already mentioned), Vijayawada is the worst with a rate of 256.4; followed by Kota at 130.2 and Kollam at 106.3. Vasundhara Raje’s Jaipur accounts for 50% of the total number of cases registered in mega cities under the Indecent Representation of Women Act and Jodhpur for 40%. Can anyone remember any outcry in national mass media over the crime rates against women in these cities? This qafeteer certainly cannot. These cities are probably not important enough in the national map of development and image projection for anyone to raise a hue and cry. Women, even less so, one would presume.

Paramita Banerjee works as an independent consultant in the sphere of child protection and gender justice. Her expertise lies in research, training, evaluation and community mobilisation. This black-coffee drinking queer activist dreams of wielding the pen to ruffle the feathers of status-quo-ist survival.

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