Beyond numbers

Moa Jamir

Navigating challenges and imperatives to address gender-based violence in Nagaland

Under the theme, “Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls!,” the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 16 Days Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is being observed from November 25, and culminate on December 10, commemorating the International Human Rights Day. The United Nations, which is spearheading the campaign, says that globally, an estimated 736 million women — almost one in three — have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993 defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life,” it further clarifies. 

As Nagaland joins the rest of the world in the campaign, the time is opportune to holistically analyse how various stakeholders approach the issue in the State and take course corrections, if warranted.

Three pertinent concerns are examined here. To begin with, the coverage of news reports on the inaugural day of the campaign, where commitments were made to speak out against gender-based violence, reveals an intriguing contradiction. The audience is predominantly female, leaving out the male counterpart for whom sensitisation is deemed most essential. While awareness of various rights is crucial, sensitisation holds relevance for all segments of the population.

On the other end, despite Nagaland consistently being touted as one of the safest states for women, as affirmed by annual reports from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), it is crucial to contextualise the data, as argued this column in September. The raw statistics from NCRB reveal alarming trends. Following a decline in the previous two years, 'Crime against Women' experienced a troubling 38.46% surge in Nagaland, rising from 39 cases in 2020 to 54 in 2021. Within these 54 cases, offenses under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) accounted for 31 instances, with 'Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty' comprising 11 cases. While the absolute numbers may appear low compared to other states, and there could be broader reportage, the significant percentage increase raises legitimate concerns.

Moreover, the NCRB data is based on information supplied by the State Governments or Union Territories (UTs), and in Nagaland, a considerable number of matters are often resolved informally, particularly those stemming from interpersonal conflicts, raising the possibility of under-reporting. While mediation and local interventions are not discouraged, the informal 'persuasive resolution' at societal-level, particularly domestic issues, could dissuade reporting and shield offenders under a veil of impunity.

During the State-level launch of the campaign in Kohima on November 25, Nagaland's Social Welfare Secretary, Martha R Ritse, voiced similar concerns. Citing data from One Stop Centre and Women Helpline in Nagaland, she revealed that the highest number of reported gender-based violence cases pertained to domestic violence. Likewise, State’s top cop Rupin Sharma expressed worry about the low representation of women in Nagaland Police, while acknowledging ongoing efforts to increase their numbers. Data from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, presented in the Rajya Sabha in February, indicated that as of January 1, 2022, the actual strength of women police personnel in Nagaland was 9.92%, below the national average of 11.75%. Among the 36 States and UTs listed, 18 had a higher percentage of women police personnel than Nagaland.

At the officer level, the situation improves somewhat, according to data from the Nagaland Police website with 12 women out of 53 Indian Police Service (IPS) officers or 22.64% shown to be women,  However, among the 222 Nagaland Police Service Officers, only 25, or 11.26%, are women. Considering that 'Police' is a State subject, Nagaland should aim to enhance this ratio, especially given its reputation as the one of the 'safest state for women.' This is pivotal for effectively addressing crimes against women through improved reporting and providing support to victim, among others. 

Hence, the 16 Days of Activism provides a crucial window to reassess strategies for combating gender-based violence in Nagaland. Rather than relying on officially reported low numbers, it is imperative to adopt an all-encompassing approach involving stakeholders from diverse spectrum, enhancing women's representation and contextualising crime data to align with lived experiences.

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