On Monday, the Nation Crime Records Bureau released its “Crime in India Report 2017”, compiling data about crime across the country. However, not only was the release delayed by more than a year, the actual data published was problematic on several counts.
Data relating to lynchings, murder by influential people, murders ordered by khap panchayats and murders committed for religious reason were collected – but not released. “It is surprising that this data has not been published,” an unidentified official told the Indian Express. “This data was ready and fully compiled and analysed. Only the top brass would know the reason why it has not been published.”
This comes at a time when mob lynchings and hate crimes are on the rise in India. Mob violence in India has been sparked off by communal hate – especially cow protection – as well as social-media fuelled rumours dealing with alleged crimes such as child abductions.
Moreover, even as the report left out this vital data, it inexplicably carved out a special category of “jihadi terrorism”. No explanation for why acts of terror carried out only by Muslims have been given their own category without including similar acts by people from other religious communities.
In both cases, it is not difficult to see that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s own politics is influencing the way the government is choosing to reveal vital crime data. Uncomfortable figures about lynchings have been omitted even as “jihadi terror” has been highlighted to give a fillip to the BJP’s focus on Hindu nationalism and muscular national security.
This is not the first time the Modi government has played around with data in order to meet the BJP’s political goals. For the past few years, key statistics have been hidden, their released delayed or the numbers tweaked. The current administration has scrapped data collection on unemployment and suppressed the results of the 2011 caste census. The gross domestic product numbers it puts out have been questioned by a person who served as the prime minister’s own economic advisor.
The lack of reliable data on the state of the country is a nightmare for policy makers in New Delhi as well as the states. Without proper data on lynchings, for example, law enforcement agencies will be hamstrung in their efforts to stop them. The lack of reliable economic data means that police makers are working blind when it comes to framing policies that could combat the current slowdown.
Moreover, in a democracy, the availability of reliable public data is doubly crucial given that citizens have a right to be well informed about the government not only at election time but also in the day-to-day debates and discussions.
The government’s decision to politicise data collection, which results in some numbers being hidden away or some being sliced and diced for political gain, will harm India’s economic development as well as its democracy.