Short Notes on Female Offenders in India
Of the total convicted female offenders in India under the Indian Penal Code in 1998 (1,43,680), 16.1 per cent were convicted for riots, 3.8 per cent for murder/attempt to murder, 3.1 per cent for thefts, 1.1 per cent for kidnapping and abduction, 18.8 per cent for hurt, 15.3 per cent for cruelty, 3 per cent for dowry death, 0.7 per cent for burglary, 0.8 per cent for cheating, 0.3 per cent for breach of trust, 0.2 per cent for rape, 0.2 per cent for dacoity, 0.1 per cent for robbery, and 36.5 per cent for other offences (1998: 271).
Of those 1, 87 lakhs female offenders who were convicted under the Local and Special Laws, 65.3 per cent were convicted under the Prohibition Act, 6.2 per cent under Immoral Traffic Act, 3.8 per cent under the Excise Act, 1.0 per cent under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 0.5 per cent under the Narcotic Drugs Act, 0.2 per cent under Gambling Act, 0.5 per cent under the Railways Act, and 22.5 per cent under other Acts (1998: 286).
My study of 325 female offenders, however, presented a different picture. It showed that 63 per cent offenders were convicted for murder, 14 per cent for theft, 5 per cent for excise offences, 4 per cent for kidnapping, 4 per cent for vagrancy, 3 per cent for causing hurt, 2 per cent for immorality, one per cent for attempt to commit suicide, and 4 per cent for other offences.
When we compare the nature of female crime in India with that of female crime in the United States and Australia, we find some significant differences. While women’s crime constituted only about 2 per cent of the total crime in our country in 1980 and 4 per cent in 1993, in the United States it constituted 16 per cent and in Australia 7.6 per cent in 1980.
Thefts in the U.S. constituted 30.7 per cent and in Australia 15.6 per cent of the total female crimes in 1980 against 20 per cent in India; cheating constituted 32.6 per cent in the US, 0.1 per cent in Australia and 0.7 per cent in India, and murder constituted 14.6 per cent in the US, 4.1 per cent in Australia and 3.2 per cent in India (see, Mukherjee and Scutt, 1981: 81).
These figures not only provide a tool of comparison of volume of participation in crime by women in India and in the two Western countries but also help in a meaningful assessment of the character of female criminals in our society.
The pattern of crime shows that women are moving out of traditional crimes like sex offences and shoplifting to thefts, burglary and crimes of violence like murder, abduction, etc. But there is no indication that their participation in these offences has increased much more markedly than has men’s in recent years.
This is evident from Tables 5.2 and 5.3. We therefore do not agree with the viewpoint of scholars like Freda Adler (Sisters in Crime, 1975: 59) that the breakdown of sexual inequality lies behind the involvement of women in various forms of crime.
Nor can we agree with Rita James Simon (Women and Crime, 1975) that as labour-force participation increases, opportunities to engage in criminality should expand for women. I have a different opinion on the causation of women’s criminality which is discussed below.