Why Assam Recorded Highest Crime Rate Against Women For 4th Consecutive Year
Assam's crime rate against women is 154.3 – which is almost thrice the national average of 56.5.
Just a day after the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data was released for 2020, tensions broke out in the Silchar town of Assam. The body of a 16-year-old girl, who went missing earlier this week, was found floating on Barak River. The girl was allegedly abducted, murdered, and gang-raped.
In another shocking incident in May, a woman was allegedly raped by two men while she was walking home from a hospital in the state's Charaideo district.
A 21-year-old IIT-Guwahati student was arrested on 3 April for allegedly sexually assaulting and raping a fellow classmate – grabbing national headlines.
The list is never-ending – something that the latest statistics also reflect.
Why is Assam in the News?
For the fourth consecutive year, Assam has recorded the highest crime rate against women, according to the NCRB data. The rate is calculated as the number of crimes recorded per 1,00,000 population.
The state's crime rate against women is 154.3, which is almost thrice the national average of 56.5.
So to put things into perspective, Uttar Pradesh registered the most cases of crime against women at 49,385, recorded at crime rate of only 45.1. However, Assam, which recorded 26,532 cases has a crime rate of 154.3.
This number has also been steadily increasing in Assam. From recording 126.8 in 2016 to 143.3 in 2017, to further 166 in 2018 and 177 in 2020 – being highest numbers recorded in India, higher than the Indian average.
Increase in Crime Vs Increase in Reporting Crime
Sociologist Dr Uddipan Dutta, who teaches in Guwahati University, says that one clear takeaway is that a lot more women are reporting crimes than earlier. This, he says, is a step ahead, as crimes against women were not a priority when the state was considered a 'conflict' zone.
"For a long time, the cops did not look at gender issues as priority, When the region was disturbed and under massive conflict, these issues had become secondary. One can even say that crimes against women were swept under the carpet. This is no longer true."
"Reporting has improved. Women are more aware. They do not tolerate violence anymore. They can write an FIR [First Information Report] and email it, if they cannot come to the police station. The police are required to register the case even if it is in an email," Rosie Kalita, superintendent of police (SP) in the Chief Minister's Special Vigilance Cell, Assam Police, told IndiaSpend.
However, Anurita Hazarika, Assam state coordinator for North East Network, which works extensively with women in Assam told The Quint:
"The NCRB data is just a tip of the ice-berg. This is not the first time crimes against women is increasing in Assam. Yes, more women are reporting. But there are also many, many cases that do not even reach the police station. The government is saying that if you are a woman and are not safe, come report to us. But it is not looking into what can be done to stop the crime."Anurita Hazarika
The NCRB data shows that 11,408 cases of cruelty by husband or relatives were registered for 2020 in Assam. The increase in crimes against women is also seen in the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS) 2019-20.
Assam also reported a total of 26 cases of rape and murder – the third highest in the country.
Released in December 2020, it showed that over 30 percent women in Assam reported spousal violence in NFHS-5. This showed a stark increase of 24.5 percent from NFHS-4 (2015-16).
A total 8 percent of women reported sexual violence, again, up from 5.8 percent in NFHS-4.
According to IndiaSpend, the crime rate of rape per 100,000 female population has increased by 33 percent in Assam between 2005 and 2019. However, this is lower than the domestic violence (409 percent), molestation (309 percent), and kidnapping (267 percent), NCRB data showed.
'Misconception That Assam Is Matrilineal'
A 2019 UNICEF study pointed that 33 percent of women in Assam get married even before reaching the age of 18. This is the highest among northeastern states, and higher than the national average in India.
"There is a common misconception of clubbing Assam with other northeastern states because of the geographical location. But this is faulty. Assam is a traditionally patriarchal society – like any other state in India. It is not Meghalaya or Mizoram where the social construct is different," explained Dr Dutta.
Hazarika reiterates that the rise in violent crimes against women is also a result of women who are increasingly raising their voice against patriarchal values.
"There is a myth that Assam is egalitarian as compared to other states. Just because more cases are being reported, does not mean women are safer. For example, no case of witch-hunting has been reported in NCRB data. But that is far from the reality on ground. Most crimes against women are getting blindsided by patriarchal views," Hazarika told The Quint.
What Assam Govt Needs to Do
First, the state needs to try to bridge the rural-urban divide in reporting the cases.
"There is a significant rural-urban divide when it comes to reporting cases. This needs to be addressed. There needs to be massive awareness drives where women are made to understand what constitutes violence. Many a times women want violence to reduce but do not want to go to the cops. They want to settle for counselling and their marriage to remain. This works in some cases but also does not in many."Ankita Kakaty, a communication professional, who works with a feminist NGO.
Kakaty adds that there is also the issue of accessibility – which makes it easier for women in urban areas to reach out for support.
"From financial security to access to resources, rural Assam lacks. This is a major concern in a state like Assam where at least 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas."
Ahead of the 2020 state elections, a manifesto issued by NEN, Purva Bharti Educational Trust/Women in Governance, Women's Leadership Training Centre and Xobdo, calls for a comprehensive state policy that will work towards tackling crimes against women.
"Violence against women must be considered a priority and not just a side issue. When elected representatives endorse that all women are safe, it becomes a barrier for women to report crime. Policies cannot just remain on paper. We need to find a way to implement them," says Hazarika.
Among the things those cited in the manifesto are:
Establishment of women's safety committees at the panchayat, district and state levels
181 helpline to the remotest corners of Assam
Effective implementation of laws against domestic violence, witch-hunting and sexual harassment at workplace
"No state in the country or very few regions in the world are as crisis-prone as Assam. Neither society, nor government seems to have realised this. It might be too late when they do," journalist Rajeev Bhattacharya said, summing up the crimes against women in the state.
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