2020 NCRB report of crimes in India: Year of the ‘anti-national’

Print edition : October 22, 2021

Umar Khalid, the former JNU student and activist, being detained by the police for defying prohibitory orders in New Delhi in December 2019 during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Khalid was arrested in September 2020 under the UAPA for his alleged role in the North East Delhi riots. Photo: PTI

Siddique Kappan, the journalist who was arrested in September 2020 on his way to cover the Hathras rape case. Photo: PTI

Union Home Minister Amit Shah being greeted by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath at a meeting in New Delhi on August 19. Photo: PTI

In the list of crimes in the country in 2020 released by the National Crime Records Bureau, “offences against the state” show a significant spike.

In August Union Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking in Lucknow, lauded the Adityanath administration for taking Uttar Pradesh to the “top spot” in terms of law and order. A month later came the “Crime in India 2020” report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), and it told a different story: Crimes registered in Uttar Pradesh in 2020 under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had gone up to 3,55,110 against 3,53,131 in 2019 and 3,42,355 in 2018. Crimes registered under Special and Local Laws (SLL) went up to 3,02,815 in 2020, against 2,75,447 in 2019 and 2,42,802 in 2018.

In fact, the total number of crimes under both the IPC and SLL across the country for all the States and Union Territories in 2020went up to 66,01,285, which was a 28 per cent increase from 51,56,158 in 2019 and a 30 per cent increase from 50,74,635 in 2018. The crime rate registered per lakh of the population increased from 385.5 in 2019 to 487.8 in 2020.

The increases have to be understood in the context of the unprecedented lockdown from March 25 to May 31 in 2020. There was complete restriction on movement during this time, and even after the lockdown was lifted there were partial to full lockdowns in different parts of the country throughout the year. The NCRB has attributed the increase in crime rate to cases arising out of violations of COVID-19 norms and said that effectively, there was a decrease in the registration of “traditional crimes” such as crimes against women, children, senior citizens, theft and burglary by about two lakh cases.

Be that as it may, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of murders (3,779) and kidnappings (12,913) in a year when the national average for these crimes had gone down. Even as crimes against juveniles showed a decline, crimes committed by juveniles went up by 23 per cent in the State. This was, in part, attributed to the lack of education and employment opportunities because of the lockdown.

A stark increase was seen in the total number of cases under the crime head “offences against the state” in Uttar Pradesh. According to the NCRB, any act that disturbs public tranquillity, national integration and public order is an offence against the state. This includes criminal activities that are directed against the existence of the state itself, specifically, treason, sedition and rebellion.

Provisions under Chapter 6 of the IPC, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act deal with charges under this category. These include IPC sections 121, 121A, 122, 123 and 124A, which primarily denote sedition, waging war (abetment, attempt and actual war), assault on high officials and escape of prisoners. IPC Section 153A deals with promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language and committing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony, while Section 153B relates to imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration through words, counsel, appeal or propagation.

Of the 5,613 cases registered under “offences against the state” in 2020 in the country, a whopping 80.6 per cent (4,524 cases) were registered under the Damage to Public Property Act, followed by 14.2 per cent (796 cases) registered under the UAPA. In Uttar Pradesh, over 95 per cent of the cases came under the Damage to Public Property Act. Most of these cases were registered when protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act were taking place. Uttar Pradesh also registered 72 cases under the UAPA, among the highest in the country, although it was the only State to record high numbers with no ongoing insurgency.

Ever since Adityanath took over as the Chief Minister, several leaders in U.P. have pursued dog-whistle issues as part of their communal politics. In 2020, the State Labour Minister said “anti-nationals will die a dog’s death”. Many students were charged with sedition for allegedly raising anti-national slogans at a college protest; such cases were also listed as “offences against the state”. Journalists, including Siddique Kappan, were arrested for attempting to report on the rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras.

The other States to register high number of cases under the UAPA were Jammu and Kashmir (287), Manipur (169), Jharkhand (86) and Assam (76).

Punjab is another State where “offences against the state” doubled from 35 in 2019 to 70 in 2020. For more than 300 days now, farmers from Punjab and other States are agitating against the three new farm laws that were hurriedly passed by the Union government—The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act. Farmers’ unions have alleged that the government has weaponised State laws against farmers in order to thwart the movement.

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Early on in their protest, several farm leaders were branded Khalistanis (Sikh separatists) and sent notices by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). More than 25 criminal cases were filed against farmers after their 2021 Republic Day tractor rally and they were accused of hatching a conspiracy to spread disaffection against the State. Several labour rights activists, including 23-year-old Nodeep Kaur, were arrested in a bid to intimidate young protesters. First information reports (FIRs) were filed against several journalists working for television channels and online news portals for their reporting on the farmers’ protests, while the independent journalist Mandeep Punia was dragged through barricades and arrested at the Singhu border.

As the NCRB acknowledges, only police-recorded crime cases are listed in the report. There is also some under-reporting because the “principal offence” rule is used for classifying crime. Under this rule, each criminal incident is recorded as one crime. If multiple offences are mentioned in a single FIR, only the most heinous crime is considered as the counting unit.

Dip in traditional crimes during pandemic

During the pandemic, even as instances of traditional crimes went down, cases of communal riots registered by the police flared up. In 2020, 857 cases of communal riots were registered across the country against 438 in 2019. Most of the 2020 cases are attributed to the North East Delhi riots of February that year; the Delhi Police alone registered as many as 520 cases. Caste riots increased by nearly 50 per cent, agrarian riots by 38 per cent and riots during “andolan/morcha” (movements)] increased by 33 per cent. Most of these cases were in Kerala (1,798 or 95 per cent). Attacks on police personnel decreased from 1,054 in 2019 to 616 in 2020, a drop of almost 40 per cent. In 2020, 1,804 cases of “Promoting Enmity Between Groups” were registered across the country against 1,058 in 2019. The highest number of such cases were reported from Tamil Nadu (303) followed by Uttar Pradesh (243), Telangana (151) and Assam (147).

This sudden spike in offences against the state, which has swept up many students, academics and even stand-up comics, has to be seen in the context of socio-political developments on the ground. The accusation of being an “anti-national” or the lampooning of the term “secularism” are by no means recent inventions. They were in vogue even when non-Bharatiya Janata Party governments were in power. But such accusations have gone up several notches under the current dispensation. Terms such as “anti-national” and “deshdrohi” are specifically used to target Muslims, critics of the government or its political opponents.

Such terms are used liberally on social media platforms to harass and troll people, and when police complaints and FIRs are filed against individuals deemed to be anti-national, the consequences are sinister. Loosely defined, the term “anti-national” seeks to denote persons who make comments that are claimed to be seditious or against the state. In official parlance, the term finds indirect sanction through various IPC sections where it is treated as an offence against the state.

Sedition is yet another tool from the colonial era that is used to freeze freedom of speech. Manipur, Assam, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of sedition cases in 2020. While Manipur lodged 15 such cases, Assam registered 12, Karnataka eight, and Uttar Pradesh seven. Among the Union Territories, Delhi recorded five sedition cases. Assam, however, witnessed an overall drop in cases under “offences against the state”, from 447 in 2019 to 333 in 2020. Manipur also saw a decline, from 315 cases in 2019 to 191 in 2020. Maharashtra registered the maximum number of cases (10) under the Official Secrets Act, followed by Rajasthan (six).

Crimes against both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes increased during 2020, regardless of the pandemic-induced lockdown. Crimes against members of the Scheduled Castes increased by 9.4 per cent in 2020 (50,291) over 2019 (45,935). Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of cases of atrocities against S.C.s (12,714 cases), accounting for 25.2 per cent, followed by Bihar with 14.6 per cent (7,368) and Rajasthan with 13.9 per cent (7017). Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra accounted for 13.7 per cent (6,899) and 5.1 per cent (2,569), respectively. These five States reported 72.5 per cent of cases of atrocities against S.C.s. Recent incidents of atrocities against the community in Delhi, Chhattarpur in Madhya Pradesh and Bijnaur in Uttar Pradesh reflect the reality on the ground.

Similarly, crimes against S.T.s increased by 8.4 per cent in 2020 (8,272) over 2019 (7,570). Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of cases of atrocities against S.T.s (2,401), accounting for 29.02 per cent followed by Rajasthan with 22.7 per cent (1,878 cases) and Maharashtra with 8.01 per cent (663 cases). Odisha was next with 7.54 per cent (624) followed by Telangana at 6.9 per cent (573). These five States reported 74.17 per cent of cases of atrocities against S.T.s.

Cases of rape against S.C. women account for 6.70 per cent (3,372 cases) of the total cases reported. Cases of rape, attempt to rape and assault on women to outrage their modesty cumulatively stood at 12.6 per cent (6,835). Similarly, cases of rape against S.T. women stood at 13.7 per cent (1,137 cases) of the total number of cases reported. Cases of rape, attempt to rape and assault on women to outrage their modesty cumulatively stood at 24.7 per cent (2,047).

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Cases of murder, attempt to murder and grievous hurt were reported as 855, 119 and 1,587, respectively, against S.C.s. Similarly, for S.T.s, cases of murder, attempt to murder and grievous hurt were reported at 172,144 and 125, respectively.

A total of 68,456 cases of atrocities against S.C.s were pending for investigation at the end of 2020, including the previous year’s cases. Similarly, 11,200 cases of atrocities against S.T.s were pending for investigation. A total of 48,560 cases of atrocities against S.C.s and 7,840 cases of atrocities against S.T.s were disposed of by police. Chargesheeting percentage for the atrocities against S.C.s was 80.6 per cent and 82.7 per cent in the case of S.T.s.

According to the National Coalition for Strengthening S.C. and S.T. (PoA) Act (NCSPA), a platform of more than 500 Dalit and Adivasi civil society organisations, communities, leaders and activists, escalating atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis across the country even during a pandemic shows that Dalit and Adivasi communities still suffer from inhuman atrocities like murders and mass murders, social boycott and economic boycott, mass arson, rape and gang rape. Following the release of the NCRB report, the NCSPA said in a statement that a large number of the cases go unreported. “Even after the amendments came into force in 2016, which generated a hope to the Dalit and Adivasi victims about accessing speedy justice, the concern that remains is the implementation of the amended S.C./S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Amended Act 2015. As the experience says that even after the passage of more than five years the new provisions of S.C./S.T. (PoA) Amendment Act 2015 are not being enforced in a proper manner. With the audacity with which crimes are conducted, it is very much evident that there is complete absence of fear. Shoddy law and governance are very much responsible for encouraging the perpetrators to get away with the crimes,” the statement said.

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