Unsafe in capital

Shraddha Walkar was one of the 590 people that were murdered in 2022 in the national capital and most likely among the 16 murders that were committed in a love affair gone awry.
Express illustration | Sourav Roy
Express illustration | Sourav Roy

To get rid off Shraddha, once in all, I sat on her chest and choked her till the time she was dead. Then I hid her body in the bathroom and planned to dispose it off by chopping it into several pieces for which I bought a saw, three blades, and a hammer from a shop in Chattarpur Pahadi,” Aaftab Amin Poonawala allegedly confessed to Delhi police, as per its charge sheet submitted to the court.

It was the night of May 18, 2022, when Aaftab allegedly murdered his live-in partner and got his name registered in the annals of Delhi’s history of brutal crimes.He first allegedly strangled her to death, chopped her body into several pieces, and disposed of them at different locations of a forest area in south Delhi and Gurugram in Haryana for several months.

His crime would probably have remained hidden had Shraddha’s father not started looking for his daughter. Aaftab is currently an under-trial prisoner at the Tihar Jail.Shraddha Walkar was one of the 590 people that were murdered in 2022 in the national capital and most likely among the 16 murders that were committed in a love affair gone awry.

Another gut-wrenching case was reported from east Delhi’s Pandav Nagar area where a 48-year-old man was allegedly murdered by his wife and step-son in July, last year. The victim’s body was chopped into a dozen pieces and then gradually disposed off at an abandoned place in the city.

In 2012, the barbaric gang rape of a 22-year-old woman in Delhi shook the conscience of the country to its core. The national capital was at that time labelled as the ‘rape capital’.Nirbhaya, the woman who was brutally raped on December 16, 2012, got justice after eight years. On March 20, 2020, all her rapists -- Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta -- were executed in Tihar Jail.

Since then, several steps have been taken to enhance security of women. A real question to ask is that are women really feeling safe in Delhi? Have the crimes against women been reduced? It is only the residents of the national capital who can answer these pertinent questions. But the data says otherwise. However, the high rate of crime against women now does not mean that the crime was less before. It’s just that it was not reported earlier; hence the data never showed any alarming figures.

The police say that things have changed over the years. “Much has been done to prepare the Investigative Officers (IO) at the grassroots level who is the first respondents to such crimes,” Delhi Police told this newspaper.

Crime against women

On an average, Delhi recorded three rape cases every day in 2022, taking the total sexual assault cases being registered to 1,212, comparatively less than previous year. In 2021, the city recorded 2,076 cases of
sexual assault.  

Yet, the figures were grim as Delhi stood at the first spot among 19 metropolitan cities in terms of rape cases. According to the data shared by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the total crime against women in 2022 saw a marginal decline in Delhi compared to the previous year data. In 2022, the city recorded a total of 14,247 cases of crimes against women while 14,277 cases were logged in 2021.

As many as 131 women became the victims of dowry deaths and five cases of acid attack while three cases of attempt to attack with acid were recorded.Speaking to this newspaper, Delhi police spokesperson DCP Suman Nalwa said that rape is a serious offence and it needs a multi-dimensional approach like education, child safety institutions, and awareness to curb the crime.

“Clubbing multiple heads of crimes as a major crime category cannot give correct pictures of law and order in the city. Many international drug cases and other gang-related arrests have been made this year by the Special Cell and Crime Branch as well as other districts. These are good detections that have brought accolades to Delhi police,” Nalwa said.

Delhi police adopted various measures to prevent such crimes such as night patrolling, mobile women police team, deploying women in PCR vans and in girls’ colleges and schools, among others.But even as stringent laws are in place along with the proactive approach of Delhi Police and a high solving rate of rape cases (95.48 percent), molestation cases (90.98 percent), and insult to modesty of women (85.75 percent), the crime against women is not declining.

One of the surprising reasons is that most of the time, the person committing a heinous crime is known to the victim woman.In 2021, the accused were known to the victim in about 98.78 percent of rape cases, while strangers were involved in only about 1.22 percent of cases. DCP Nalwa said that this marginal percentage further declined to 0.03 per cent, which means in 99.70 per cent of sexual assault cases, the accused is known to the victim.

Delhi police had, in its annual report in 2021, said that in 13 per cent of the rape cases, the accused was a relative of the victim, a neighbour in 11 per cent, a family or a friend in 46 per cent, and in 1 per cent of the cases an employee or a co-worker.

Sexual harassment at workplace

The term ‘sexual harassment of women at workplaces’ usually gets neglected due to the non-heinous nature of the crime.Sexual harassment constitutes a gross violation of women’s right to equality and dignity. It has its roots in patriarchy and its attendant perception that men are superior to women and that some forms of violence against women are acceptable.

One of these is workplace sexual harassment. Often, it is excused as ‘natural’ male behaviour or ‘harmless flirtation’ that women enjoy. Contrary to these perceptions, it causes serious harm and is a strong manifestation of sex discrimination in the workplace.It is an infringement of the fundamental rights of a woman under Article 19 of the Constitution and also erodes equality and puts the physical and psychological well-being of workers at risk.

Delhi not only recorded the most cases of sexual harassment among all metropolitan cities but also topped the charts under the category of sexual harassment of women at workplaces. In 2022, the city recorded 19 cases of sexual harassment at workplaces, followed by 15 in Mumbai, 9 in Hyderabad and 8 in Bengaluru.

Though sexual harassment at workplace has assumed serious proportions, it has often been seen that women do not report the matter to the authorities concerned in most cases due to fear of reprisal from the harasser, losing one’s livelihood, being stigmatized, or losing professional standing and personal reputation.

The menace of drug abuse

The national capital has varied problems and the infiltration of drugs and its abuse is of prime concern.As per a joint survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and AIIMS, drug abuse is more prevalent in the Delhi-NCR region compared to the national average.Till October 15 this year, a whopping 1,468 narco-offenders have been arrested in a staggering 1144 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) cases. On an average, four drug traffickers are arrested every day in the national capital.

As per the data, the police also seized a colossal haul of illicit substances, totaling 62.639 kgs of heroin/smack, 15.318 kgs of cocaine, 2802.293 kgs of ganja, 377.914 kgs of opium, 77.370 kgs of charas, and a colossal 346.372 kgs of poppy head.Apart from the Delhi police, the Narcotics Control Bureau is also leaving no stone unturned to put a plug to the problem.

“Nationally, state police forces lodge 97 percent of the 55,000-odd FIRs registered annually under the NDPS Act. Only one percent is done by the NCB, but these are at the top of the tier. Almost two-third of the cases registered by us result in conviction which is around 65-70 per cent,” said NCB’s deputy director general Gyaneshwar Singh.

The official said that synthetic drugs,including MDMA, are now more prevalent in Delhi-NCR. “Earlier,
these drugs were not found in the national capital but now these are availabe to the drug users,” he said.
Singh added that some areas in Delhi and nearby satellite towns are becoming a hotspot of both narcotic consumption and smuggling. “Dwarka and Greater Noida have become major hotspots of foreigners who are into consumption and supply of contraband,” he said.

Snatching & vehicle theft cases

One of the major problems that the city residents are grappling with is street crime.  Snatching incidents and motor vehicle theft have become more prevalent.The rising cases of snatching, one of the most ruthless and blatant crimes that instill fear in the minds of people, especially women, have possibly forced people to avoid going out alone on deserted streets.

In most of the cases, the police get hold of the criminals but a way to prevent such crimes still seems a distant dream. However, according to the official data, there has been a decline of 13.2 per cent in snatching cases during the first eight months of 2023, as compared to last year.

As per the figures, the city has witnessed a whopping 4,922 cases of snatching till August 15. Last year, 5,671 cases were recorded during the same period. In 2021, the national capital had recorded 4,468 such kinds of street crime till July 15.Even burglary cases have seen a sharp rise with 6,189 cases registered in 2022. Senior officers attribute the rise in the registration of burglary cases to multiple factors such as the introduction of e-FIRs since January 2022.

Rise in FIRs due to technical glitches

According to Nalwa, improving ‘Ease of Reporting Crime’ is an approved agenda of Delhi police’s Action Plan 2024 and towards this objective, e-FIR of burglary or house theft was introduced with effect from January 26 last year.

“This has facilitated online registration of suspected burglary cases without having to visit police station.  The rise in cases is reflective of this ease of reporting; however, there is a technological caveat which accounts for the apparent exceptional rise in burglary,” she said.

It was officially learnt that at times there are some technical glitches that result in a surge in cases of burglary or house thefts. Generation of multiple e-FIRs for a single incident when one reported burglary gets transferred electronically from one police station to another before the correct jurisdictional police station is determined.“Of all e-FIRs of burglary, house theft, and other theft cases, 22,631 were found to be duplicated i.e showing in more than one police station,” she claimed.

Cases were also high as multiple e-FIRs were found to be generated about a single incident depending upon subsequent realisation by the complainant that he could not report all stolen articles in the initial e-FIR and thus resorting to the lodging of a subsequent e-FIR for the same.

Such cases accounted for 4,771 e-FIRs registered in the year 2022 alone.Another technical malfunction was that as many as 3006 e-FIRs were registered under burglary even though the actual incident was of simple missing article or house theft.

The case which shook the city

Shraddha Walkar (27) was allegedly murdered by her live-in partner Aaftab Amin Poonawala in Delhi on 18 May 2022. The case came to light six months after the murder when Shraddha’s father lodged a missing persons complaint after learning from her friends that they were unable to contact her. On 18 May 2022, Aaftab allegedly strangled Shraddha over an argument and then dismembered her body into several pieces, allegedly charring her face to hide her identity. A 300-litre fridge was used to store her body parts, which were disposed in the forest. Delhi police arrested Poonawala on 12 November 2022.

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