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Telling Numbers: In riot cases, signature of economy

Latest NCRB crime report shows shifting trends in causes of riots. The overall number of cases has dropped, driven by a decline in riot cases over communal and political issues. On the other hand, cases due to industrial and water disputes have multiplied. The Indian Express looks at this and other trends in the report.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Updated: January 10, 2020 7:33:37 am
Police at Jamia Millia Islamia, site of a police crackdown in December. Rioting is among the charges in cases registered by police. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna) Police at Jamia Millia Islamia, site of a police crackdown in December. Rioting is among the charges in cases registered by police. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

As protests continue across the country over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), latest crime data on violent protests suggest that until at least 2018 compared with 2017, public concerns were become more about economic issues than about politics.

According to the 2018 crime report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), while riot cases due to communal, political, agrarian and student issues declined over 2017, riots arising out of industrial and water disputes rose sharply.

The data show that riot cases over industrial disputes rose almost 2.5 times in 2018 as compared to 2017. Similarly, water disputes led to almost twice as many as riot cases as they precipitated in 2017.

In 2018, 76,851 cases were registered under the category “Offences against Public Tranquillity”. This was a decline from 2017 which saw 78,051 such cases. Almost 90% of all such offences were associated with rioting while the rest were under “Unlawful Assembly” (popularly known as Section 144).

NCRB data. Click to enlarge.

The data come amid an economic slowdown and a recurring water crisis in rural belts. “It is difficult to explain this without juxtaposing corresponding socio-economic data from various regions. But yes, it is generally seen that stressed sectors see more law and order issues. In 2016 there was a massive spike in agrarian riots which had a backdrop of farm crisis,” a Home Ministry official said.

According to the NCRB report, industrial riots rose from 178 in 2017 to 440 in 2018. Water dispute riots rose from 432 in 2017 to 838 in 2018.

Compare this with riots for other reasons such as communal, students agitation, political and agrarian. According to the NCRB, political riots fell by almost 25% in 2018 over 2017. Communal riots fell by almost 30% in the same period. Caste conflicts too declined by almost 20%. Student conflicts marginally fell by about 10%, while agrarian riots recorded a decline of over 35%.

Even riot cases arising out of land disputes, which are among the prime reasons for riots between groups, have recorded a decline of around 4% in 2018 over 2017. Cases of rioting during “andolan/morcha” too have registered a decline of 25%.

While cases of communal riots are down, cases of attempts at inciting passions and stoking hatred have risen. The data show offences promoting enmity different groups have been constantly rising and have in fact more than doubled over 2016. As many as 478 such cases were registered by police across the country in 2016. It rose to 958 in 2017 and 1,114 in 2018.

Riots perpetrated by vigilante groups have also been recorded by NCRB this time. However, it shows either poor recording of such crimes or poor furnishing and categorisation of such data by State Crime Records Bureaus. The data show only two cases of rioting by vigilante groups registered in 2017 and four in 2018. It should be noted that NCRB figures are based on state police FIRs which record only the most heinous offence.

Telling Numbers: In riot cases, signature of economy NCRB data

For example, if a vigilante group engages in rioting and it leads to a death, the case would be counted as one of murder and not of rioting.

In another aspect related to rioting, offences under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act have seen a decline of over 10%. The Act has been talked about a lot of late during the CAA-NRC protests after the UP government sent notices to protestors for recovering damages to public property. A total of 7,910 cases were registered under this Act in 2017. This declined to 7,127 in 2018.

State-wise data show that it is not the first time that Uttar Pradesh has cracked down hard on rioters. In 2018, UP topped the charts for offences under the Act. As many as 2,388 offences were registered by UP under the Act, followed by Tamil Nadu (2230) and Haryana (415).2017, too, UP was among the top two states, behind only Haryana. While UP registered 1,933 cases under the Act in 2017, Haryana registered 2,562. Tamil Nadu was not far behind UP, with 1,790.

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