The Supreme Court on the 10th of July began hearing pleas against section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The section criminalises unnatural intercourse with a man, woman or animal. This further explains that penetration is sufficient to constitute an offence thereunder. While same sex marriages are recognised by law in a few countries, it is considered an offence in many others.
Breaking this chunk down to a summary it can be seen that laws for crimes are subjective around the world. What may be termed as a crime in India may not be so elsewhere. Possession or consumption of cannabis excepting bhang is illegal (yet not often strictly enforced) in most parts of India. Whereas, the same is legal in California, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington and many other countries. It will soon be legalised in Canada. A woman driving in Saudi Arabia or a girl put behind bars in Iran for posting videos of herself dancing, criminal activities are defined differently across the globe.
But what about crimes that are commonly recognised? How much more safe or unsafe are we today in a world of advancement and development? It is 2018. We are in an age where the crime net has widened to include data theft, phishing and vishing (or voice phishing), impersonation on social media, piracy and much more. With new additions and already existing offences, safety is an outspread concern.
Crime in India – Understanding the Figures
Before grasping the data on crime it is essential to know how crimes are recognised. The NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) classifies crime in its latest report of 2016 as:
1. Principal Crimes under the IPC
Any violations affecting the human body, offences against the state, public tranquility or property, crimes relating to documents and property marks constitute crimes under the Indian Penal Code. Further, it also appends acts of cruelty by a husband or his relatives and insult to the modesty of women.
2. Other Crimes under the IPC
Cases of causing to commit suicide or attempt to commit it, assaults on public servants, mob violence disrupting peace, causing simple hurt, threat to public safety, trespassing, mischief and receiving stolen property are secondary crimes recognised under the Indian Penal Code.
3. Crimes under SLL (Special and Local Laws)
This classification lists crimes against women and children, possession and use of arms and explosives, violations under the Information Technology and Intellectual Property Acts, other Regulatory and Enforcement Acts, harm to the environment and such other crimes. The Bureau also identifies atrocities against minority communities such as the scheduled castes and tribes.
Crimes involving human trafficking are considered to be a component of both IPC and SLL crimes.
As per the latest report released by the national organization in 2017 (based on 2016’s data) the overall crime rate has increased by 2.6% since 2015. Delhi was found to have the highest crime rate followed by Kerala.
The national crime rate average being 233.6, Delhi has a rate of 974.9 while Kerala stands at 727.6.
These two Indian union territories/states seem to have an unusually low safety standard as per findings. Crime rate is arrived at by dividing the number of cases reported in a year by the mid year projected population (in lakhs).
Though we know that these conclusions are based on national figures, we also ought to keep in mind that they only take into account cases that have been reported to the police. With Delhi being the heart of India and Kerala being the most literate state it is likely that crimes will also be reported to authorities rather than victims sealing their lips over atrocities faced by them.
Among different sub classes of crimes, grievous hurt is committed the most. It has a share of 20.7% among all violent crimes. Kidnapping and abduction follow (20.5%), then riots (14.4%), attempt to murder (11.6%) and rape (9.1%). The rest of the pie chart is covered by robbery, murder, arson, dowry deaths, attempt to culpable homicide, attempt to rape, dacoity and harm not amounting to murder. The catch here is even if a case is reported against a person for more than one crime; the principle offence rule is applied for classification.
For instance, a case of rape along with murder is termed as murder only. Or a murder under the Dowry Prohibition Act is considered a dowry death. The figures among corruption, cyber and economic crimes stand at 68.4% for cheating and 11.7% for criminal breach of trust. Forgery, cyber crimes, crimes under the Prevention of Corruption Act and counterfeiting occupy 19.9% of the rest of the crime pie in total.
India as Compared to the Rest of the World
Just a few days ago there was a nationwide controversy after Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that India was the most dangerous country for women. The survey ranked war torn nations Afghanistan and Syria second and third respectively. But what was the basis of this survey? A group of 548 experts whose qualifications are not known were asked to rank countries based on various parameters.
These parameters ranged from health care, economic resources, cultural practices, sexual harassment and violence, other forms of violence and human trafficking. Though approximately 8% of those surveyed, evenly spread across the seven continents, were Indians the data collection method was not marked genuine.
Summing up an opinion of a minute portion of the world’s population to decide on which country is the most unsafe might definitely not be the right way. But where does India really stand in the list of safe and unsafe countries?
After the horrendous rape and murder of India’s daughter in its capital back in December, 2012 many foreign nationals cancelled their prospective visits to the country fearing insecurity. In spite of stricter laws for such odious crimes and wider spreading awareness, the incidence of rapes do not seem to plummet. The number of crimes against minors, especially, are on the rise week after week.
India has also seen a surge in economic frauds. The apparent ones being unpaid loans by tycoons like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and the alleged involvement of ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar in mismanagement of affairs. Of course these are only a few headline grabbing crimes. There are many similar offences happening day in and out which do not reach the newspapers because there are no big names involved.
International statistics from the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) ranks India 119th among 219 countries, in terms of murder rates. (1 being the area with the highest crime rate and 219 being the lowest). India when compared to its neighbours, is safer than Pakistan and less safe than Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China in that order.
If all crimes are taken into consideration leaving out theft, a report by Clements Worldwide, states that India is one among the top five countries that seem unsafe. India is ranked after South Africa, Honduras, Venezuela and Belize. This equation of ranking for other countries tallies with the report of the UNODC on murder. It only slightly displaces South Africa’s position after Belize’s rather than keeping it on the top. But the ranks allotted to India as per the two reports portray a huge deviation. This implies that there are other factors contributing to the lower safety standards of India.
What does it mean to be a Victim of Crime in India?
Often we hear of unpleasant incidents happening across the nation. Cases of rapes, mob lynching, communal violence and vandalisation of property, moral policing, planned murders and drunk driving are increasing like never before. After reading the flash news or media reports, the audience tends to conduct a post mortem of the case in its mind prima facie without having any knowledge of the background of the case. This leads to sensationalism and blame.
Victims in our country have no voice of their own. Most often than not, they fear reporting crimes due to public opinion on the incident and fear how their lives will turn out to be after cases are brought to limelight. If a journalist is murdered it becomes a matter of politics. If a girl is raped it becomes a matter of her character. And if a boy is raped it becomes a matter of his cowardice. If a person is lynched it becomes a matter of religion. If a couple is moral policed it becomes a matter of culture.
Social Media And People
People have their own theories to build and social media helps add fuel to the fire. The roots of crime I believe get deeper when the victim is said to deserve such a fate. The perpetrators feel stronger in such situations, thus encouraging other imminent wrongdoers to follow suit.
The Situation of Justice
If the justice system is to be talked about, it is both improving and stagnant at the same time in different areas. There are situations where the police refuses to file FIRs judging the gravity of an incident. Lack of uniform patrols at regular intervals is also another reason why incidents do not get prevented in the first place. Further, once incidents are reported, the probe is slow. Sometimes it takes years to come to a justified conclusion. This could also be due to false claims made or the complexity of the case.
But in the case of genuine incidents, victims often feel discouraged to go ahead and fight the battle patiently due to lack of support. We anyway are part of a community that holds family name above justice. It is rarely seen that the struggle for justice is seen through, till the end.
In 2017, the Talwar dentist couple based in Noida was acquitted after a prolonged trial since 2008. There was not enough evidence found against them to prove that they were guilty of murder of their 14 year old daughter Aarushi Talwar and domestic help Hemraj. But in a stretch of nine years the family had been disgraced enough in the eyes of the public. Most of it was because of unreasonable public opinion.
We have also observed how the Nirbhaya case culprits were denied relief in the form of a life sentence. The men had filed petitions to reduce their capital punishment to life imprisonment, which was recently rejected by the Supreme Court.
These are a few ‘fight till the end’ responses from victims and their kith. But with rates of crime increasing with every new year, the number of pending cases also grow along parallel lines.
Can India be made safer?
I get at least two text messages and an email per month from my bank cautioning me to never share my bank account’s sensitive information like card pins, CVV or expiry details and OTPs to anybody. Whenever you access a website of the Income Tax Department, any bank or online shopping site you’re greeted by a pop up message that has precautionary measures to prevent any form of cyber crime. With a more widely digitised environment the government is also making efforts to educate people in order to help them stay safe.
Extent Of Awareness
Awareness is not only limited to internet frauds but also extends to personal safety. When a mass violence breaks out, the media warns citizens to refrain from touching or checking the contents of orphan packages and bags in public spaces. They are told to inform the nearest authorities instead. While taking cab services people are always advised to note down the vehicle number and share it with their acquaintances to keep them informed of their whereabouts. Children are given sex education in schools and imparted lessons on gender equity.
These measures talk of one and only one thing commonly – cognizance. Being aware does not erase crime totally but it definitely benefits individuals and creates a safer territory. The Mumbai Police for example is doing an outstanding job in spreading awareness these days. Gone are the times of boring red and white poster ads that warned citizens. Instead the Mumbai Police uses creativity to attract people towards safety measures posted by them on the internet.
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) June 27, 2018
The Law Ministry has come up with a draft which was submitted to the Department of Justice to increase the number of fast track courts to try rape cases. Special forensic labs in each state have also been proposed to be set up. Besides, various state governments are also considering installing panic buttons and GPS in public transport and at various points of public access by 2019. Manufacturers of devices are also being encouraged to introduce an SOS mechanism in their new rollouts.
As far as laws are concerned; in April the government issued the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018 to make punishments for rape more weighty. The amendment has extended the punishment from 7 years of imprisonment to 10 years, a minimum imprisonment of 20 years for committing rape on a victim below the age of 16 and also life imprisonment or even death penalty for the offender if the victim is below the age of 12.
Laws and Punishments
Additionally, fines imposed shall be reasonable enough to meet rehabilitation expenses of the victim. Rape cases are to be investigated within 2 months and appeals to be disposed within a span of 6 months as per the ordinance. No anticipatory bail is allowed in case of rape of a minor below 16 years of age. Soon, a Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill will be tabled in the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament. This bill will replace the aforementioned ordinance after it is passed by both the houses.
In the same month another law called the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018 was issued as proposed by the Ministry of Finance. A fugitive economic offender is a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued by an Indian court and has left India to avoid prosecution or (if abroad) refuses to return to India to face prosecution.
Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill
The statute provides for confiscation of proceeds of crime and property owned by the fugitive economic offender. Whether the same maybe in India or abroad. It also disallows defence for civil claim. A bill in this respect, Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 19th of July. Subsequently, it was passed by the upper house on 25th of July.
The Parliament is also looking to pass the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 which will be taken up by the Rajya Sabha for discussion in the forthcoming sessions. This bill helps tackle aggravated forms of trafficking. These forms include child labour, forced begging, forced surrogacy, organ trade, child marriages and the like.
Experts from the UNHRC have expressed their concerns over this law. They advise that this law should pass only after being up to date with the international laws on trafficking. This is considering that the Indian bill has certain vague provisions. This ends up criminalising certain activities that are not necessarily considered as trafficking.
With new legislations and extension of penalties, the public is starting believe in the justice system. It’s a long journey before we try to pull down the crime rates by a big margin. It took years to completely throw out diseases like polio and small pox from India through consistent measures.
Similarly vigilant practices, education and awareness can help curb the occurrence of crimes in the country. By how many points can we let the crime rates dip. Or how much more safe can it be for citizens as well as tourists in a developing country like ours? Only time will tell.