West Bengal reported the highest number of cases of cruelty against women by spouses or their relatives in 2021, according to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
A total of 19,952 cases under Section 498A of the IPC, popularly called anti-dowry law which deals with violence against women by husbands and their relatives, were registered in the state last year. West Bengal was followed by Uttar Pradesh where 18,375 such cases were recorded, and Rajasthan where 16,949 cases were registered.
Goa was at the bottom of the table, recording only one such case of domestic violence. Nagaland recorded two such cases and Sikkim recorded three. In West Bengal, 41.50 per one lakh women were victims of such violence, while the national average was 20.50, as per the annual report published by the Union Home Ministry.
West Bengal Commission for Women chairperson Leena Gangopadhyay said the data showed that women of the state can report crimes against them to the authorities, which take prompt action."No one can ignore the fact that domestic violence exists in society. It is a reality in India and in West Bengal. But, I feel there is a positive side to this report as it shows that women in West Bengal are able to report such crimes to the authorities, and authorities act on the basis of that. There is transparency here, and this report shows it," she told PTI.
"However, no conclusion can be drawn from this report (alone) as it does not take into account the fact that in many states women can't even report cases of violence against them," she added. Filmmaker and activist Sudeshna Roy, who also works as a special consultant for the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said the report reflected a great deal of awareness among women of the state.
"We, the women of West Bengal, are not scared to talk aloud. We are not scared to stand up against men, against society, which is not the case in other states. This report shows that," she told PTI. "We are not hushing up crimes, we are encouraging people to come forward and report them. And, that is the reason why we have a higher reportage compared to other states," she added.
Among metropolitan cities, Delhi reported the most cases of such violence at 4,674. In Kolkata, the figure stood at 841, much below those of Hyderabad (1,678), Jaipur (1,200), and Lucknow (1,101). West Bengal was at the third spot after Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in 2019 in terms of cases recorded under IPC Section 498A, reporting 16,951 cases. However, it jumped to the top spot in 2020 with 19,962 cases reported that year.
"It is clear that women are standing up for their rights. They are aware of being violated, hence reporting of 498A has definitely increased. Police is also taking cognisance of this," said mental health activist Ratnaboli Ray.
"However the scope of NCRB data does not cover the fact whether a woman is finally getting justice. In our experience access to justice still remains elusive for many," she said.
In 2021, West Bengal was also among the top five states in crimes against women. The state reported 35,884 cases, slightly lower than the previous year's 36,439 but higher than 2019's 29,859 cases. In 2021, Uttar Pradesh reported the greatest number of cases involving crime against women at 56,083, followed by Rajasthan at 40,738, Maharashtra at 39,526, and West Bengal.
West Bengal was just after UP, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh in cases of dowry deaths. While UP reported 2,222 cases of such deaths, Bihar reported 1,000 cases, MP reported 522 cases and West Bengal reported 454 cases, according to NCRB. Women's rights activist Anindita Sarbadhicari, a filmmaker, said there are economic reasons — such as unemployment behind the high number of cases of domestic violence by husbands and their families.
"We, the people of West Bengal, actually live in self denial. We think that we are educated and progressive, and because of this, we don't talk about these crimes," she said."Unemployment is a major reason why a husband turns violent towards his wife. He asks her to get money from her parents, and when she fails, he beats her up and so does his family. Because of the grave unemployment situation in the state, women cannot be financially independent because they too don't have jobs. Lack of financial independence forces her to stay in a violent relationship," she said.Sarbadhicari, who made a film on domestic and dowry-related violence — 'Every 68 Minutes', said domestic violence increased during the pandemic because people were staying at home for longer hours.