A Look at Available Data Suggests That the Government's Initiatives to Combat Sexual Violence are Hollow

Demonstrators shout slogans as they resist detention by police officials while attending a rally in New Delhi on 20 December 2015, held to protest the release of a juvenile rapist. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images
23 March, 2016

In the 2013 budget session, the then finance minister P Chidambaram announced the creation of the Nirbhaya fund. Set up in the aftermath of the horrific rape of Jyoti Singh in December 2012, the fund was created as a corpus under the Department of Economic Affairs (DoE) to finance initiatives concentrating on women’s safety. The appropriation bill—a motion that authorises the government to spend the money—was approved on 9 September 2013, six months after the fund was established. However, the initial fund was still not available for use as the Department of Expenditure only opened a public account in January 2014—almost a year after the announcement was made.

Since then, the fund has seen dismal performance under the current government. A 16 December 2014 report by the Standing Committee on Finance took the DoE to task for “parking of funds over the years pending formulation and approval of Schemes matching the allocation.” In the subsequent budgets of 2014 and 2015, allocations of Rs 1000 crore each were made but were never utilised.

Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on 16 October 2015 show that the number of reported crimes against women in the country has more than doubled in the last decade. It is important to note that these figures do not accurately represent the state of affairs at the ground level but merely the nature of cases that are reported to the authorities. Crimes against women often go unreported for fear of the consequent social censure, harassment or even attempts to “burk” data. Nationwide and local data would seem to attest, however that the measures suggested to combat crimes against women are not only mismanaged, but plagued by apathy on behalf of the states and the police machinery at large.

According to the NCRB data, rapes against minors across India rose by a massive 61 percent from 2012 to 2014. The number of rape cases increased by around 66 percent from 2010 to 2014. Reports of kidnapping and abduction shot up by an incredible 92 percent for the same period. Other crimes such as dowry deaths (1 percent), assault with intention to outrage modesty (102 percent), cruelty by husbands or relatives (30 percent) have also seen a rise. In almost half a decade, crimes against women as defined by the Indian Penal Code have risen by an overall 53 percent.

In 2014, Uttar Pradesh accounted for 3,467 rape cases, or 9.5 percent of the total rape cases reported throughout India. Maharashtra and Rajasthan constituted 9.5 percent and 10.2 percent of the total rapes individually, while Madhya Pradesh recorded 5,076 rape incidences, or 13.81 percent.

In the last decade, there has been a 272 percent increase in police reform expenditure across the country. However, the overall percentage increase in incidences of rape has not decreased. On the contrary, more cases have been reported. While some of this can be attributed to rising awareness and the ease in filing First Information Reports, the percentage increase is still alarming.

One of the measures undertaken by the central government in its annual report for the year 2014-2015 was to reduce the rate of rising crimes against women was to requesting the state governments to increase inclusion of female personnel within their state cadres to 33 percent. Since, according to the Constitution, police and public order fall under the domain of the state governments, there is little the centre can do to meet this bar nor are they perhaps, best equipped to do so. However, the centre isn't far from blame. Take, for instance, the Delhi Police, which falls under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs and has only 7.15 percent women police officers. They are often underutilised or given inconsequential posts, and are rarely patrolling the city. The Centrally Armed Police Forces, under the MHA, also have a poor strength of women working for it. Women in the Assam Rifles (0.74 percent), the Border Security Force (1.37 percent), the Central Industrial Security Force (4.87 percent), the Sahastra Seema Bal (1.53 percent), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (1.53 percent), and the Central Reserve Police Force (2.08) are all equally under represented. The National Security Guards have absolutely no women serving in the force.

According to the latest figures available from January 2014, female personnel in the police, across all the states and union territories in India measured up to a meagre 6.11 percent of total people serving. Madhya Pradesh, which records the maximum number of cases in India of the rape of women, has a dismal 4.82 percent of women serving in the police. Uttar Pradesh comes in at 4.29 percent and Rajasthan and Maharashtra have only 7.11 percent and 10.48 percent female officers.

Another aspect working against the combatting of crimes is the amount allocated to the police as part of the state budgets. For the year 2013-14, the MHA provided Rs 37,723 crore to para-military forces operating under its jurisdiction, which includes AR, BSF, CISF, SSB, ITBP, NSG and the CRPF. On the other hand, the total police expenditure incurred by all the states and union territories in India was Rs 74,257 crore. Naturally, the disparity in proportional allocation in state police expenditure is indicative of the state infrastructure and the human resource crunch suffered by the state police units. The number of policemen per lakh of the population for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are all below the sanctioned police strength of 101.20, 148.55, 125.14 and 335.57 respectively. On a national scale, as per 2014 figures, there are only 147 policemen per lakh of the country’s population, a number that has risen by 37 percent from the 2004 number of 107 policemen per lakh. The figure of 147 policemen per lakh of the population, however, is still much below the United Nations recommended figure of 222 policemen per lakh of the population. Contrast this coverage of civilians against that of protection granted to VIPs. As per the latest 2013 Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) figures, for every Indian VIP, there are three police personnel. In 2013 alone, there were as many as 47,557 police officers protecting 14,842 VIPs across India.

Another factor that adds to this bleak picture is the treatment often meted out to victims of sexual violence by the police. GP Joshi, the former Director of the BPRD, observed in his book, Policing in India, “Even if complaints are registered, investigations by the police often leave a lot to be desired. Medical examination of the rape victims is not done in time and consequently considerable evidence is lost.” One corollary of this poor investigation and evidence collection is a lower rate of conviction for rape cases, which for 2014, was 28 percent (against 24 percent and 27 percent in 2012 and 2013).

In December 2013, an in-principle approval was granted by the Finance Ministry to two separate proposals by the MHA and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway (MoRTH), costing 321.69 crore and Rs 1,405 crore respectively, that would equip public transport vehicles with GPS systems. However, even by March 2015, the projects had not taken off, and the fund’s corpus remained unutilised. The 2015-16 budget provided for an additional allocation of Rs 653 crore to MoRTH, Rs 150 crore to the MHA and another 42 crore for two schemes proposed by the MWCD that met the criteria for accessing the Nirbhaya fund. The One Stop Centre Scheme was approved in March 2015, for setting up a centre in each state to support women affected by violence. The other scheme, the Universalisation of Women Helpline, was approved in February 2015 for implementation in 2015-16. Other ventures such as the creation of the Central Victim Compensation Fund (Rs 100 crore) to support victims of rape, acid attacks, human trafficking and women killed or injured in cross border firing, and starting investigative units for crimes against women (Rs 324 crore) had also been proposed. A nodal agency against Human Trafficking called Organised Crime Investigative Agency (OCIA) is to be set up and an outlay of Rs. 83.2 crores had been earmarked for it. The MHA had also proposed a scheme for setting up a Cyber Crime Prevention unit with an estimated cost of Rs 244.32 crores, which is to be funded from the Nirbhaya Fund.

News reports coming in from the field have been less than optimistic. Take, for instance, the case of the Delhi Police, who were allocated a sum of Rs 3.4 crore under the Nirbhaya fund in February 2015. Although allocated, this amount was not released until February 2016, a delay of an entire year. While the funds accrued to the Delhi Police are non-lapsing, delayed disbursements puts additional pressure on the police to allocate and utilise funds in a shorter time-span, often leading to their mismanagement. While all of the initiatives the government has proposed over the past year or two are vital, their efficacy will depend on the timely release and responsible use of those funds.