The number of rapes reported each year in Delhi has more than tripled over the last five years, registering an increase of 277 per cent from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 in 2016, according to data released recently by the Delhi Police.
The year after the Nirbhaya incident, in which a 23-year-old paramedical student was raped by a group of men in a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012, saw a 132 per cent spike in the number of cases reported, with a sustained 32 per cent increase thereafter, from 1,636 cases in 2013 to 2,155 in 2016.
Cases pertaining to "assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty" (under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code) have increased by 473 per cent from 727 in 2012 to 4,165 in 2016.
The first five months of 2017 saw 836 rape cases being reported to the police. The figure does not quite capture the continuing horror that women in the National Capital Region (NCR) face.
In the 48 hours from June 19, for instance, five rape incidents were recorded. In addition to these, a 24-year-old woman was raped in a car parked outside a mall in Delhi on June 20, and another in which a 26-year-old woman was gangraped in a moving car on the outskirts of Delhi.
The rise in the number of cases does not necessarily imply an increase in the number of rapes; it can mean greater willingness on the part of survivors to approach the authorities, as well as a greater propensity among police officials to register complaints.
One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IndiaSpend that the rise in the number of reported rapes is due to advisories issued by the government and the Supreme Court of India that action would be taken against police personnel who fail to register a First Information Report (FIR) for rape and other cognisable offences.
Anant Kumar Asthana, a Delhi-based activist and lawyer, agreed: "Reporting of sexual offenses against women has gone up with stricter implementation of laws like Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and the [enactment of the] Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013."
The Criminal Law Amendment Act, popularly known as the Nirbhaya Act, came into force on April 2, 2013, and inserted a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure to make it mandatory for criminal complaints of a sexual nature to be recorded by women police officers, and prescribes rigorous imprisonment of between six months and two years in addition to a monetary penalty for a public servant who fails to register a complaint of a cognisable offence.
"With more stringent laws being passed, public awareness being created, and the media reporting more cases of sexual assault, reporting of cases has increased, but this is still far from being representative of the number of cases that occur," said Preethi Pinto, Programme Coordinator on Violence against Women and Children at Mumbai-based SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action).
At the same time, a comparison of Delhi Police reports from 2014 and 2015 reveals a rising trend in the number of rape cases withdrawn, from 81 to 104, possibly indicating a lack of faith in the criminal-justice system, especially as cases fail judicial scrutiny.
Meanwhile, the conviction rate for rape in Delhi, though better than the all-India average, dipped to 29.7 per cent in 2015, the latest year for which data are available from the National Crime Records Bureau. Across India, only one in four rape trials leads to conviction.
"Declining conviction rate in rape cases ordinarily means lesser number of registered cases could be proved in court and this gives rise to the suspicion that maybe false cases are also being registered," Asthana said, "But it could also mean that police is not able to do good investigations or that victims are not getting quality legal representation during trial."
After the Nirbhaya incident, the Delhi Police set up 161 help-desks staffed by female officers, and announced that 70 per cent of female officers would report for over eight-hour shifts each day.
In 2013, the Ministry of Finance announced it would set up a Rs 1,000-crore Nirbhaya Fund to drive initiatives aimed at enhancing the safety of women in the country.
Thus far an amount of Rs 3,100 crore has been allocated, according to the government's reply to the Rajya Sabha on April 6, 2017. As many as 16 proposals amounting to Rs 2,348.850 crore have been received, of which 15 amounting to Rs 2,047.85 crore have been approved.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) has initiated three schemes under the Nirbhaya Fund -- One Stop Centre (OSC) for women affected by violence, under which 84 centres are currently operational; Universalisation of Women Helpline, under which 18 states and Union Territories have set up helplines; and Mahila Police Volunteer (MPV), whose pilots are currently running in several states.
The ministry issued a clarification in January enumerating the various schemes being run by various ministries under Nirbhaya Fund. However, it made no mention of funds utilised or spent on these schemes individually, although an overall allocation of Rs 1,530 crore and an estimated expenditure incurred of Rs 400 crore was cited.
In a May 26, 2016, order, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to formulate a national policy for providing relief to rape survivors, saying the Nirbhaya Fund amounted to "just paying a lip service".
Yet, laws and policing alone cannot prevent crimes of a sexual nature.
"Preventing sexual assault is a long-term process and the most important way to do so, is to change individuals' and society's attitudes and behaviour. Stringent implementation of laws and strict policing will help, but the real change will come when abusers and rapists are consistently convicted for their crimes, survivors are not doubted, judged or shamed," Pinto said.