By Ila Ananya
If you’ve lived in Hyderabad, you might have noticed large posters around the city since 2014, announcing the formation of a women’s wing under the police – for women who want to complain about eve teasing and stalking. The wing, predictably, was called the SHE Team, and over the two years, the posters have got smaller (thankfully, they don’t talk about saving a woman’s innocence and honour like the police posters in Bengaluru). They are still around, promising to swing into action immediately at any complaint via a call, WhatsApp message, email, or Hawk Eye (their app). Now, exactly two years after being formed, the SHE Team decided to hold a press conference on October 24, commemorating the day they had begun and declaring with much flourish,that there has been a 20 percent decrease in crimes against women since their inception.
Everybody is cheering — there have been a series of articles with unquestioning headlines like “SHE Teams stem crime tide in Hyderabad”, talking about the “strict vigil” kept by them; or “Thanks to ‘SHE Teams’, Crime Graph Against Women Dips by 20% in Hyderabad”. But nobody was asking where these numbers have come from. At the press conference, ACP Swati Lakra read out statistic after statistic, telling everyone present that SHE Teams have caught almost 800 people red handed, out of which 577 men were majors, while 223 were minors. She also said that they have registered 1,897 petty cases, 40 Nirbhaya Act cases, 33 IPC and IT Act cases, and have jailed as many as 41 people, fining 242 men, and warning 392 others. In the middle of all these numbers, Lakra added in the press conference that there has been a 20 percent drop in crimes against women. So many numbers that they almost obscure the big claim.
Let’s take a closer look. We called the SHE Teams number and ACP D Kavitha told us hesitantly that this 20 percent drop was calculated based on the reduction in the number of cases reported since the SHE teams came into existence. “You will find all the statistics reported in the papers,” she insisted.
Until September 2014, there were 1,606 cases of crimes against women registered. The same number, by September 2015, fell to 1,521 cases. By September 2016, the number of cases being reported fell further to 1,296.
First, there is the constant quandary that calculating this percentage based on the number of reported cases could also mean that fewer women are reporting crimes against them, rather crimes themselves having decreased. Suppose we ignore that, there is the problem of correlation — we have no way of proving that this apparent decrease in the number of reported cases is because of the SHE Teams. It might be, but who knows? It’s like these fake correlation examples — a correlation between the number of women who ride bikes, to the number of women who like to read Elena Ferrante or the correlation between number of people who drowned by falling into a place and the number of films Nicholas Cage has appeared in.
Then there is the really big problem. We also have reports from the Hyderabad police from December last year, which says that the rate of crimes against women in Hyderabad had increased by eight percent in 2015 — according to these reports, 2,518 cases of crimes against women had been recorded in 2015, as against the 2,335 cases recorded the previous year. “There was an eight per cent increase in cases under crimes against women. This eight per cent increase in reporting is taken as a good sigh that women are coming out more for complaining,” Hyderabad Police Commissioner CV Anand reportedly said. These figures don’t match with the figures announced by the SHE Teams, so is there any way of knowing which of these sets of numbers we should believe?
None of my friends living in Hyderabad know of the SHE Teams. If ever there was a statistically more useless dataset than ‘my friends’ please let us know. However, ‘my friends’ are college-educated women in the age group 18 to 25. None of them have ever reported crimes of ‘eve teasing’ and stalking. “Eve teasing, guys following you on bikes, this happens all the time,” says Meghana, a student at Shadan Institute of Medical Sciences. Lakra had said in the press conference that according to a survey done by Bhoomika, 76 percent of people in Hyderabad know about the SHE Teams.
The day after the press conference, A Srilatha, principal of education at Trident School in Narsinghi, hanged herself after being stalked and harassed by R Sridhar, the principal of administration in the same school. Perhaps Srilatha knew of the SHE Teams. Perhaps she didn’t. According to reports, she was hesitant to file a case against Sridhar because she was worried she would lose her job — details like this are never considered when numbers are being calculated by the police.
Should we remind ourselves again that we need to be sceptical of what the police tell us? Or that there is no silver bullet to ending sexual violence? Perhaps the moral of the story is that as a community, journalists should stop fearing math? It wasn’t so long ago that the media kept saying that rapes had doubled from 2011 to 2012 in India when, as data journalist Rukmini Shrinivasan pointed out, actually the NCRB had just changed their way of calculating rape. The moment the media takes up any of these numbers and percentages as the whole truth, the blanket statement that crimes against women have decreased by a huge 20 percent becomes more important than all the cases that have in fact happened and gone unreported, or no action has been taken.