No longer a safe ‘state’

Moa Jamir

Nagaland has been consistently hailed as one of the safest states for women and children in India. Year after year, the annual National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports bear testament to this, consistently placing Nagaland among the lowest in India across various categories of crimes. This reputation is something that the Chief Minister of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio, vaunted on August 9, attributing the state’s low crime rate to the presence of customary courts in villages and the strong social ties.

However, it is essential to contextualize the NCRB data. For starters, it relies on information provided by the respective state governments or union territories, and in Nagaland, a significant number of issues tend to be settled informally, especially those related to interpersonal conflicts. In other words, under-reporting cannot be ruled out.

Moreover, the attribution can become a double-edged sword.  While the existence of robust social ties is undoubtedly an asset, often resolving disputes through mediation and local-level interventions, it also creates a scenario where crimes, especially domestic issues, are persuasively ‘resolved’ without formal reporting. This, unfortunately, may discourage victims from coming forward and provides a cloak of impunity to wrongdoers. Consequently, these incidents seldom feature official crime data, creating a false sense of security.

Recent incidents, such as the arrest of a headmaster in Tuensang for alleged molestation of four students on September 19 and the arrest of another man by Peren Police on September 17 reportedly for sexual assault have cast a shadow on the perception of low sexual crimes against women and children in Nagaland.

Even within the official sphere, the figure is somewhat disconcerting. For instance, the NCRB data itself reveals some alarming trend. For instance, in the latest ‘Crime in India’ report pertaining to 2021, ‘crime against children’ in Nagaland surged by over 77% to 55 cases, up from 31 the previous year. While the absolute numbers in Nagaland remain among the lowest in India, this sharp percentage increase is concerning. Besides, offenses under the POCSO Act in Nagaland nearly doubled from 18 to 31, representing a staggering 72.22% increase from 2020. This marks the first significant rise since 2017 when there were 41 cases reported. Since 2018, the numbers have consistently been on the rise. Besides, conviction under the POCSO Act are reported more frequently in the recent times in the local dailies. 

Additionally, ‘Crime against Women’ in 2021 witnessed a worrisome 38.46% jump in Nagaland, as per the same NCRB report, increasing from 39 cases in 2020 to 54 in 2021, despite declining figures in the preceding two years. Once again, it’s worth noting that offenses under the POCSO Act account for the majority of these cases, with 31 instances, followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ at 11 cases. While the increased awareness of rights may have contributed to better reporting, it’s imperative to recognize that the surge in cases may signify a much more profound problem within the society as a whole.

These concerning statistics and incidents serve as a stark reminder that despite its reputation for safety, Nagaland is not immune to the pressing issue of crimes against women and children. Hence, it is imperative that society analyse the matter holistically and take proactive measures rather than relying solely on the comfort of officially reported low crime numbers. Needless to say, the safety and well-being of women and children must remain the top priority.

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