Indian women are reluctant to approach the justice system when they are victims

The gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012 led to a significant increase in public awareness of crimes against women. Despite this, the data reflects a culture of reluctance or fear when it comes to women reporting crimes against themselves and the lack of avenues for women to be able to file complaints.

Using the National Court Data Grid, which was created as part of the Department of Justice Center’s eCourts project, the authors of this article found that women filed only 8.6% of the total number cases in India in 2021. Only 6.07% of the total number of criminal cases and 15.9% of the total civil cases were filed by women.

A comparison of the National Courts Data Grid on criminal cases filed by women with National Crime Record Bureau data on reported crimes against women showed that the number of criminal cases filed by women far exceeds the number reported crimes against women.

We infer that a greater proportion of criminal cases filed by women do not involve crimes against the individual themselves: they may be criminal cases that she brings on behalf of her children or other members of his family.

The graph below highlights the discrepancies between the two figures.

Source: Data on cases filed by women are from the National Court Data Grid (2021). Data on reported crimes against women are from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB report) (2020).

In states like Bihar, this gap is very large: while 284,379 women filed criminal complaints in 2021, only 15,359 crimes were reported against women. This disparity is also huge in West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

In contrast, in the North Eastern states and others like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Uttarakhand, the disparity is low.

Data from the fifth cycle of the National Family Health Survey from 2019 to 2021 confirmed that only a small number of women seek help from the police. Women aged 18-49 were asked how or if they seek help when experiencing physical or sexual violence. Most of them seek help from their family or that of their husband, friends or neighbours.

Across the states, on average, only 5.20% of women seek police assistance for physical or sexual violence. The highest are found in Rajasthan (13.5%) and Karnataka (12.4%) and the lowest in Maharashtra (1.6%), Arunachal Pradesh (1.7%), Punjab (1. 9%) and Bihar (2%).

Low reporting of crimes against women is not just an Indian phenomenon. According to the United Nations report The World’s Women 2015, worldwide, less than 10% of female victims of violence seek help from the police.

As Rukmini S argues in his recent book Whole numbers and half-truthsthe empowerment of an individual to report a crime is a key reason why a crime is recorded at the police station.

Women and the Justice System

Our research has shown that the number of civil and criminal cases filed by women in all states is low.

Authors’ calculations based on data from the National Judicial Data Grid (2021).

Civil cases filed by women outnumber criminal cases in most states. The average number of criminal cases filed by women was only 110 per lakh of the population compared to 2,551.9 criminal cases per lakh filed by the general population.

When it comes to civil cases, women filed 136.4 cases per lakh of the population all over India compared to 899.7 cases filed per lakh in the general population.

The number of civil cases filed by women per lakh population is highest in states such as Goa (378.2) and Kerala (358.1).

The number of criminal cases filed by women per lakh population is highest in Delhi (293.7), followed by Uttar Pradesh (281.7), Bihar (273.2), Punjab ( 184.6), West Bengal (172.3), Madhya Pradesh (123.1) and Jharkhand. (122.2).

When female literacy rates are taken into account and related to the number of criminal cases filed by women across all states, no particular pattern emerges.

However, in northern Indian states with relatively low literacy levels – Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand – the number of criminal cases filed by women is relatively high, indicating a higher crime rate in these states.

Fewer cases are filed by women in the northeastern states, even though female literacy rates are relatively high there. Kerala, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh are the only states with high female literacy rate and also high number of criminal cases filed by women.

Literacy for women and criminal cases filed by women. Credit: Census (2011) and authors’ calculations of data filed by women per lakh of population from the National Court Data Grid. Telangana was not included as it was formed after the 2011 census.

In 2020, there was a drop in the number of reported crimes against women, to 3,71,503, compared to 2019 at 4,05,326.

Some observers say this could be the result of fear of easier retaliation from the perpetrator during the pandemic, closeness to the perpetrator, and limited contact with systems and institutions that might offer help. assistance.

Nevertheless, even when considering the cases reported in 2019, the number of reported crimes against women is far lower than the number of criminal cases filed by women.

What can be done to ensure that more women feel empowered enough to report crimes to the police? The creation of Nirbhaya squads in police stations, made up mostly of female officers, seems to be a step in the right direction.

Other initiatives such as Bharosa cells, in cities such as Nagpur, Pune and others, which respond and engage on issues specific to women and children have also shown positive results.

Educational initiatives to raise awareness of different laws and legal procedures for filing complaints will also help bring about change.

Finally, data should be collected on the types of civil and criminal cases filed by women in all states. This data will not only help to better understand the nature of crimes in various regions, but can also help design interventions that help women to report.

Juhi Sidharth is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Gender Studies at Flame University, Pune. Smriti Jalihal is a research associate at the Center for Knowledge Alternatives at Flame University, Pune.