EFFECTS OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON CRIMES IN INDIA

The Covid-19 pandemic is the most drastic global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge that the world has faced since World War-2. Health risks are not the only bane that comes with this catastrophic event, but also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis.

To fight this disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested the countries observe the nationwide lockdowns. In response to this, India observed a 14-hour voluntary public curfew on 22 March 2020. Later, the prime minister of the country felt that the need of the hour was a full-fledged lockdown. So the authorities imposed a lockdown for 21 days and then it kept extending. Although this response to the pandemic was comprehensive and robust, these several lockdowns in the country left thousands of people jobless. The people could not find ways to feed their families, to pay house rents, to find their way back home, etc.

Everything gradually came to a standstill situation but this trend could not be observed in the crime rates in India. The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities and created challenges on many fronts. With people staying indoors, crimes like chain snatching, theft, house breaks, murders, dacoity, etc. have seen a significant and sharp slump but the crimes against women and cybercrimes saw a sudden spike. These crimes have happened despite there being restrictions on the movement of people and strict surveillance.

Every organization, big or small, have been compelled to follow “Work from Home” guidelines. This led to an increase in the security risk as the proprietary data is now being accessed from personal devices that may not have the same level of firewall and security as in-office setup. The hackers have been sending phishing emails to citizens with the words ‘Corona’ or ‘COVID-19’ in the subject line. The emails contain attachments that are designed to look like advisories or tips to deal with the pandemic but are actually viruses or malware. The moment you open them, the malware author will be able to access your system. To sell their lies further, the hackers also mention the names of credible agencies like the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In view of the ‘stay home, stay safe’ government notification, people are now more dependent on various payment gateways to pay their utility bills, premiums, recharge their mobile phones, buy medicines and essential commodities online, and indulge in various such online activities. These online activities have increased the risk of spyware and ransomware attacks. The spyware steals sensitive personal data of the user while ransomware takes control over the login and other vital credentials of a person. These attacks result in huge losses to the general public not only financially but also otherwise.

The crimes against women have also seen a steep rise across the country amid restrictions imposed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The National Commission for women received 587 complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 are related to domestic violence. Almost all the states saw a spike in the crimes against women during the lockdown. Although women have been facing domestic violence and verbal and physical abuse even during normal times the lockdown had aggravated the situation as women are trapped within the houses with the perpetrators of violence. During the first four phases of the COVID-19 related lockdown, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years. But this can also be considered as only the tip of the iceberg as 86% of women who experience domestic violence do not seek help in India. From March 25 to May 31, 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women.

Even the numbers of dowry deaths have increased during this time. Since families did not have enough resources to keep themselves fed during the lockdown, they forced women to fetch dowries from their parents, and the failure to get enough amounts led to their deaths.

The most horrific incidents were the cases of fathers raping their own daughters and the mothers supporting these actions. There were cases where fathers raped their own daughters and impregnated them during the lockdown period. One such case was observed in Tamil Nadu where a 14-year old girl child was repeatedly raped by her father and later, found pregnant.

The cases of “sextortion” also increased during the pandemic, with cybercriminals tampering women’s photos and blackmailing them. These criminals try to extort money or sexual favors from women by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity through means like morphed images.

Since Indian jails are overcrowded and congested, so as to lessen the crowd and decrease the chances of spreading the virus in the cells, the prisoners were released on parole during the lockdown. Initially, a total of at least 34,000 prisoners, both under trials and convicts, were released from the jails on “interim bail” and “emergency parole”. Later, many more criminals having jail term up to seven years were released. Some of them had to be arrested again as they committed crimes. Officials said that the criminals were taking advantage of covering their faces with masks. Snatching becomes an easy way to earn a quick buck for them.

As the restrictions were lifted after Lockdown 2.0, the crime rates continued to spurt. The street crimes began again at an alarming rate. Since the economy of the country had devastated and there was rampant unemployment among the masses due to sackings related to the COVID induced lockdown, many people resorted to criminal activities to make their ends meet. The increasing normalcy of wearing a face mask is also a matter of concern for the police as identification is getting difficult.

Also, the police’s brazenness and high-handedness have been on full display in recent years across the country. Instead of helping distraught citizens cope with the frustrating and hungry times, many Indian police personnel is increasingly caught harassing and assaulting them. When the law enforcement body is involved in such acts, where will people go to complain about their issues?

During the lockdown, legal services were not classified as essential by the government, which allowed only a small number of “virtual courts” to operate. Thousands of prisoners are awaiting trial as India’s criminal justice system came to a complete halt during the pandemic. The pendency rate of cases is so high that people have lost faith that justice could be provided.

Although the government assures that the police will assess the ground level situation and chalk out an appropriate strategy to deal with the rise in crimes, the common people still see no hopes.

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