More than half the crimes experienced by residents of Delhi and Mumbai go unreported, and when crimes are reported, less than half of those lead to a First Information Report being filed.
This is one of the key findings of a public survey of crime victimisation and safety perception in the two cities, conducted in 2015 by the non-profit Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. The survey report, to be released in Mumbai on Friday, aims to provide the police with reliable statistics on crime incidence, public satisfaction with the police and public perceptions of safety and victimisation.
The NGO believes the police will be able to use this information to better direct its limited resources towards addressing these problems.
While the annual statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau reflect only crimes reported to police stations (often missing data from police stations that fail to report to the Bureau), the CHRI directly surveyed households in Delhi and Mumbai in order to reflect both reported and unreported crimes.
The survey was conducted on nearly 10,000 households in Delhi and Mumbai, and covered seven crime categories: theft, assault, house break-in, criminal intimidation, unnatural death (excluding suicide), sexual harassment (excluding rape and domestic violence) and missing persons (which is not a criminal offence but needs to be reported to the police).
In Delhi, 13% of surveyed households experienced one of the seven crime categories. In Mumbai, the figure was 15%. High-income households seemed to experience crime less frequently than others. The most commonly experienced crime was theft. Mobile phones were the most commonly stolen object, although Delhi households experienced high incidences of car theft as well.
In Delhi, the second-most commonly experienced crime was sexual harassment – it accounted for one in 11 cases of all incidents, as compared to one in 25 cases in Mumbai. Delhi victims were more likely to know their perpetrators compared with Mumbai. Physical assault was the second-most common crime experienced in Mumbai. This was more frequent than in Delhi – although people in the capital were more likely to be assaulted by a group of perpetrators rather than a single assailant.
The survey also found that language seemed to be a key factor influencing vulnerability to crime, while caste or religion did not. Non-dominant groups – such as non-Hindi speakers in Delhi and non-Marathi speakers in Mumbai – seemed more vulnerable to crime.
The study found that across categories, less than half of all experienced crimes were reported, and of those, only half were registered as First Information Reports. In cases of unnatural death or a missing person, almost all victim households reported to the police, but in cases of sexual harassment, reporting was the lowest: only 11.1% of sexual harassment experiences were reported in Mumbai, and even less – 7.5% – in Delhi.
In the case of sexual harassment, only one in 13 cases were reported in Delhi and one in nine in Mumbai. This points to an alarming proportion of unaddressed crime in each city, “signalling worrying levels of insecurity among the public, particularly women”, the study said.
The chief reason given by victims for not reporting crimes was the fear of being caught up in police bureaucracy or court matters. Other reasons given included a feeling that they didn’t have enough evidence to go forward with reporting, and a feeling that the police would not entertain the complaint or do something about it.
In the case of sexual harassment, where incidence of crime is high but reporting is low, the survey report recommends more awareness and education programmes for the public. “Visible and active efforts must be made by the police, strengthened by partnering with NGOs, to educate women that sexual harassment is now a crime they can complain of,” the report said.
Police response to reported crime
Only one-third of Delhi households and half of Mumbai households claimed that they were satisfied with police response when they reported crime. This is perhaps because in both Delhi and Mumbai, just 48% of reported crimes led to the filing of an FIR.
In Mumbai, says the survey report, crime reported by high- and mid-income households led to FIR registration more often than crimes reported by low-income households, even though low-income households reported crime the most.
Those who felt satisfied with the police response listed reasons such as the police arriving without delay, acting fast and, significantly, explaining the actions they were going to take. “This indicates that more soft skills training is needed on how the police can help victims understand what to expect after they have made a complaint,” said the survey report.
Those who were dissatisfied with the police response listed delays and refusal to file FIRs as the most common reasons for feeling that way. Rude behaviour and attempting to convince the complainant not to file an FIR also feature as prominent reasons.
‘Such surveys should be frequent’
Crime victimisation surveys are conducted frequently across the world to estimate the difference in the rate of reported and unreported crime and to understand why people do not report crimes. Those advocating police reforms believe such studies should be taken up more regularly in India too.
“Such surveys should be conducted once in two years to evaluate the performance of the police,” said Dolphy D’Souza, convener of the Police Reforms Watch organisation in Mumbai. “This will ensure good policing services to citizens, which is our right.”