The Uttar Pradesh elections are halfway through and for most part of the campaigning “rising violence” against women in the state has been a dominant theme in the BJP’s poll rhetoric. It is almost every day that the BJP has been targeting the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) over this issue.
At a rally in Ghaziabad on February 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Goons have been sheltered that is why women feel unsafe in the state”. The PM added that women don’t venture out after sunset or go to school because they are afraid of molesters and eve teasers. “This is because the criminals are sheltered by your leaders,” Modi said, targeting chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. BJP president Amit Shah had also raised the issue earlier, promising to raise anti-Romeo battalions in every district if the party is voted to power.
The BJP’s attack forced the Samajwadi Party to go on the offensive. “The lie-filled, inappropriate statements of these leaders are aimed at maligning the image of Akhilesh Yadav and his government,” SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said, adding that it is the BJP-ruled states that fared worse than UP.
It is not without reason that women’s safety has become a big issue in this election. Women form nearly 46% (6.33 crore) of the total electorate of an estimated 13.8 crore voters. In 2012, the percentage of women who exercised their voting rights was 23%, and in 2017, it is expected to increase. All major parties have promises on women’s security and empowerment. The SP is turning to its ‘Women Power Line 1090’ project to woo women voters.
India’s record of gender violence has been bad. To understand the reasons and also why some states have improved in recent years, two economists --- Raghav Gaiha, honorary professorial fellow, University of Manchester, and Geetika Dang, independent researcher, and sociologist Vani S Kulkarni, lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, analysed data from 2001 to 2015, culled from Census, National Sample Survey, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Indian Human Development Survey and Planning Commission.
“We studied four kinds of serious crimes against women: Rapes, dowry deaths, cruelty by husband and relatives, kidnapping and abduction. We are using so many sources because the NCRB will give the absolute number of cases registered (FIRs). Their data don’t explain why there has been an upward/downward trend across states,” explained Dang.
Speaking to HT on what fuels brutality against women, Kulkarni said gender violence is not necessarily a part of masculinity, but the two are often closely linked, mediated by class, caste and region. “In UP, caste hierarchy matters. Upper-caste men rape women of low castes in north Indian villages. But when lower-caste men rape a woman of an upper caste, it becomes a crime to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it violates social norms.”
1. In 2001, out of every 100 rapes, 12.27 were registered in UP. But by 2015, the state reduced its share to 8.73 rapes per 100 cases.
2. Conviction of rape rose by about 29% between 2001-15 in UP. The higher/lower the conviction of rape, the lower/higher the incidence of rape.
3. The good news is that sex ratio in UP has increased from 898 women per 1,000 men to 912 women per 1,000 men. Higher sex ratio reduces the incidence of rape.
4. Even when it comes to all crimes against women, UP’s total share of all India crimes against women fell from about 17% to 14% between 2001 -15.
5. Incidence of crimes against women fell from about 18/lakh to 15.5/lakh between 2001 and 2015. But at the all-India level, incidence of crime against women has gone up by 17.5/lakh to about 19/lakh.
Cases rise in MP in 15 years
1. Incidence of crimes against women went up from 23.14/lakh in 2001 to 26.73/lakh in 2015.
2. Incidence of rape went up from 9.86/lakh women in 2001 to 12/lakh in 2015 (the state is among the worst five performers in 2015 and the worst performer in 2001).
Rape cases up in Rajasthan
1. Incidence of crimes against women went down from 33.67/lakh in 2001 to 25.34/lakh in 2015.
2. Incidence of rape went up from 3.87/lakh to 10.60/lakh between 2001 and 2015.
If we come to Akhilesh Yadav’s rule in UP -- here the team used NCRB data -- the absolute number of serious crimes against women decreased by 16% in Uttar Pradesh. In MP, it increased by 8%.
“While our data analysis shows that there has been some improvement on women’s safety in UP, there is a caveat. In India, rapes go unreported. On many instances, police don’t register cases due to caste undertones etc,” said Dang.
This view is corroborated by Khalid Chaudhury who works with the Lucknow office of ActionAid India. “There is serious under reporting as it is very difficult to file FIR and there is political pressure on the police for under reporting”. Suchitra Mehrotra, a third-year law student in Allahabad University, told HT the situation has improved in the main cities but not in rural UP.
Though UP has improved, there remains a huge variation in incidence of serious crimes against women across India. Explaining the reasons for such variation, Prof Gaiha said: “As Amartya Sen has emphasised, rape and other serious crimes against women are closely intertwined with inefficient policing and judicial systems, and callousness of society. So the quality of governance in states is key to understanding the huge variation in incidence of serious crimes against women.” It is only on March 11, when votes are counted, one will know if people agree with Akhilesh Yadav’s view that his government has done a lot for women’s security. And whether his claim is strong enough to ensure another term in a patriarchal state.
In order to compare the status of women safety across states, the authors of the study (Are women more vulnerable to crimes, 2017) looked at the National Crime Records Bureau data in a common unit of “crimes against women per lakh women”, that is, the numerator is “serious crimes against women” and the denominator is the number of females (in lakhs) in the state. This is the only way crimes against women could be compared between large and small states.