The Chandigarh stalking case has returned the focus on crime against women. For assessing the crime situation in India, most people rely on the database maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau. But is this database relevant when assessing crime against woman?

Human right activists, researchers, lawyers and even senior police officials express concern over the methodology used by the bureau.

For one, it is a fact that, for a wide range of reasons, many women do not even get to a police station to record the crime against them. Reporting is the first step in recording crime. Once the complainant reports the crime, the police are required to file a First Information Report on the basis of her statement. The FIR is then analysed and details entered into police’s crime database. This data is periodically submitted to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Principal offence rule

The bureau follow the “rule of principal offence” – it comes with a disclaimer – when recording crime. The rule is this: each criminal incident is considered as one unit and the most severe of the charges involved is taken into account. For instance, if there is a case of rape, abduction and murder, it will be listed as murder in the database since this offence attracts more stringent punishment than the other two. The principal offence rule is followed by most developed countries, including at least 18 in the European Union. “The reason is to avoid exaggerated perception of crime, which can lead to immense fear in the society,” said a senior official at the National Crime Records Bureau who asked not to be identified.

The official explained: “If there is an incident of crime involving rape, abduction and murder and it is taken into account under all three heads, it suggests the occurrence of three separate incidents of crime. The principal offence rule is a scientific method to avoid that.”

“But that does not solve the problem,” counters Shikha Chhibbar, a researcher with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “At the end of the day, if anyone takes the crime data table pertaining to incidents of crime against women, that person shall always get to see under-reported figures. We have taken up this matter with the National Human Rights Commission on multiple occasions, asking them if recording crime against women could be considered an exception to the principal offence rule.”

In 2015, Chhibbar and her team, along with the non-profit Praja Foundation, filed a batch of Right To Information applications to collect data on crime in Delhi the previous year. Comparing the data with figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, they reported significant differences. The bureau recorded 1,818 cases of rape in Delhi in 2014, but the data collected through RTI showed that 1,889 rapes had been reported to the city’s police. Because of the principal offence methodology, at least 71 rape cases had not been recorded in the national database. Similarly, the bureau recorded 2,667 cases of “assault on women with intent to outrage modesty” that year as against 3,071 incidents actually reported to the police.

‘Analyse the data better’

Senior officials at the National Crime Record Bureau insist that crime data can be better anaylsed without changing the recording methodology. “For more accuracy in analysis, tables have to be merged and read,” said the senior official. “For instance, if there has been a case of rape and murder, it shall be recorded under the crime head of murder, but at the same time, there is a dedicated table of motives for murder in which rape happens to be one of the column heads. Similarly, there are figures of motives for abduction, too.”

The official added, “While analysing crime against women, one must read the table of crime committed against women with the tables dedicated to motives for other offences in which crime against women can be incidental.”

Table 3.2 of the bureau’s data provides a state-wise break-up of motives for murder and culpable homicide. Of the 16 listed motives, at least five or six, including rape, gangrape, and dowry, can be related to crime against women, which has a dedicated chapter in the database.

Stalking not a motive

After a series of amendments in 2013 – recommended by the Justice JS Verma Committee that was set up in the aftermath of the December 2012 Delhi gangrape – the Indian Penal Code recognises stalking as a separate crime. It is a bailable offence, punishable with imprisonment up to three years for the first conviction and five for any subsequent convictions. The provision covers cyber stalking as well.

While rape as a motive for murder and abduction is considered by the bureau, stalking is not. In the past two years, Delhi alone has witnessed at least four incidents of murder related to stalking.

Meenakshi, 19, was stabbed to death at a market in Anand Parbat, Central Delhi, in June 2015. Karuna, a 21-year-old schoolteacher was similarly killed in North Delhi’s Burari in September 2016. Riya Gautam, 21, an aspiring air hostess was killed by a man who had been stalking her for four months in Shahdara last July. In the lastest such incident, a 50-year-old man in Southeast Delhi’s Amar Colony was murdered by his daughter’s stalker who had just come out of the jail on bail.

Similar cases of murder, with motives that can be attributed to stalking, have emerged from other states. Most recently, a Class 12 student on her way to school was allegedly stabbed to death by her stalkers in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district.

In the Chandigarh stalking case, now that the accused have also been charged with attempted abduction, a non-bailable offence with slightly more stringent punishment than stalking, the principal offence rule is likely to wipe out the complainant’s stalking ordeal when the crime is recorded in the national database.

“Every method has its own limitations and they have to be dealt with,” the senior bureau official said. “The objective should be to choose a method that leads to the most accurate analysis of crime. As far as adding new crime heads and motives behind heinous offences in annual data is concerned, it is a dynamic process and the bureau constantly works on that.”