The Pulse | Society | South Asia

Assam Moves to Combat Increasing Crimes Against Women

The rate of crime against women in Assam is more than double the national average. What’s behind the recent surge?

Assam Moves to Combat Increasing Crimes Against Women
Credit: Special Arrangement

Martial arts will be a primary tool to check crime against women in India’s northeastern state of Assam. The Assam government swung into action recently when the state registered the highest number of cases of crime against women in India for the fifth successive year.

The Crime in India 2021 report, prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), revealed that the rate of crime against women in Assam was 168.3, which was far higher than the national rate of 64.5. The rate of crime is calculated as the number of total crimes recorded per 100,000 population. Assam was followed by Delhi with a crime rate of 147.6 and Odisha 137.8.

The rate of crime against women in Assam was 143.3 in 2017, 166 in 2018, 177 in 2019, and 154.3 in 2020.

A pilot project has been launched in the districts of  Kamrup and Dhemaji, where some students have been taught martial arts to defend themselves from attackers.

Elaborating on the plan to check crimes against women, Assam’s Minister for Women and Child Development Ajanta Neog informed the state assembly that plans have been firmed up to implement the module in the entire state in a phased manner.

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In addition, 18 fast track courts and 11 special women cells have been set up in some districts to deal with cases of crimes related to women and girl children. As many as 2,665 cases have already been transferred to these courts for a speedy trial.

The minister explained that these measures were part of a standard operating procedure (SOP) prepared for the first time by the state government after consultations with stakeholders at a 14-day training session.  The SOP had been approved by the home and health departments as well as the Assam State Legal Services Authority. A memorandum of understanding has also been signed by the Assam government with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to create more women’s cells in the state and equip them with training and expertise.

The break-down of the crimes committed against women in Assam in 2021 reveals that there were 46 instances of murder with rape or gang rape, nearly double the 26 such cases in 2020. There were 1,835 cases of rape, 563 cases of attempted rape, 4,511 cases of assault with intention of outraging modesty, and nine cases of acid attacks on women in 2021, up from two in 2020.

What has triggered the alarming rate of crime against women in Assam?

Police officers were quoted by the media as saying that the higher incidence of crime against women in the state is attributable to increased reporting by the victims and enhanced awareness among women.

Over 300 police stations in the state are equipped with women’s help desks with dedicated officers in charge and qualified counselors engaged by TISS.  The closure rate of cases after the investigation is also high and not all registered cases are charge-sheeted.

The police officers’ opinion is echoed by some sociologists in Assam. Professor Chandan Kumar Sharma, who teaches sociology at Tezpur University, identified “a combination of many factors” behind the surge in crime against women in Assam.

While pointing out that “women have indeed been coming forward to report cases of crime against them,” Sharma drew attention to the “vast change” that “the demographic composition of the state has undergone.” There is a “sizeable presence of other communities from other states among whom dowry-related violence is rather common,” he said. Moreover, “dowry-related cases have been increasing even among the indigenous communities since the past few years.”

Sharma explained that there has been a “general weakening of the erstwhile social control and value system on account of growing consumerism and individualism. Due to changes in working hours and lifestyle, many women in the urban centers have to work late and many among them also live alone, making women in Assam vulnerable to different acts of crime.”

Besides, “the state machinery has failed to create a safe public space for women owing to lax enforcement of the laws,” Sharma said. Finally, “women’s changing aspirations collide with gender stereotypes, which leads to exploitative patriarchal norms,” he added.

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Some scholars have also blamed drug addiction and the advent of digital technology for crimes against women. “Probably, the frustration arising out of the gap between the aspirations created by information technology and the reality is creating social ferment leading to increasing crime, particularly against women,” said Guwahati-based social scientist Uddipan Dutta.