is Delhi actually that dangerous?

Conventional wisdom holds that Delhi is a riddled with crime. Our neighbors and coworkers assured us that Delhi was a haven of danger. Criminals lurked around every corner, they declared; we were taking our life into our hands every time we rode in an auto, walked through the Old City, or generally left our house after sundown.

But after eighteen months in the city, during which our only brush with crime was four scary six-year-olds, our question is this: why isn’t there more crime in Delhi?

The demographics and economics of Delhi suggest that the city should be a warzone. The city skews young and male: 55% of Delhi is male, as compared to 52% across India and a global average of slightly more than 50%; and over 53% of the city is under the age of 25, compared to about 33% in New York City. Poor young males in America turn to sex and violence to vent their energy and aggression, but Delhi is such a conservative culture that it’s very hard for young men to engage in the former. The city’s economic gulf is incredibly wide and incredibly visible, like Ferraris-driving-past-pavement-dwellers visible. And the hardships of the city — heat, cold, traffic, pollution, water shortages, high population density, insults and indignities — are overwhelming even to people who can afford to overcome them.

Most cities would be torn apart by these social forces. But not Delhi.

The statistics reflect our observations. We don’t argue with reports that show Delhi to be India’s “crime capital“. But while Delhi may be dangerous by Indian standards, it’s positively tranquil as compared to American cities. The Delhi region had 495 murders in 2007, or 2.95 murders for every 100,000 people by the National Crime Records Bureau’s population estimates. In that same year, however, New York City had 5.94 murders per 100,000 people — and that was a year that New York City was named the safest big city in the United States. There’s a similar story for rape in 2007: 3.57 per 100,000 in New Delhi, 10.48 per 100,000 in New York.

It’s fair to assume that a lot of crime goes unreported in Delhi. But it’s hard to imagine that three murders for every 100,000 people go unreported, or seven rapes for every 100,000 people. Which means, from our limited and admittedly amateur statistical analysis, that while Delhi has all of the demographics to make it a warzone, it has none of the actual crime.

It’s clear even from the newspapers that Delhi’s day-to-day dangers are nowhere near the level of even the safest American cities.The papers  report every crime as if it heralds the end of days, but the fact that simple robberies make the news as often as they do suggests that bigger crimes are not occurring at a comparable rate. “Rs 1 lakh stolen from Punjab trader on bus,” shouts one headline for a seven-paragraph article — a petty crime that, while unfortunate for the victim, wouldn’t garner even a sentence in an American paper because so many bigger crimes would elbow it out of the way.

We just can’t understand why Delhi’s so safe. Not only do we not understand why angry young men haven’t taken full control of the city, we can’t even understand what keeps the grizzled old parking attendants from stealing the cars to which they’re entrusted. In places like Defense Colony Market, rich businessmen routinely hand the keys to their million-rupee cars to a parking attendant with the accompanying promise of a ten-rupee tip. How could these poor men, when faced with such a quick ticket to easy street, not take advantage of it?

Never mind what Delhi’s apocalyptic news media says. The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?

40 responses to “is Delhi actually that dangerous?

  1. Interesting way of putting things in perspective 🙂

  2. Another Traveller

    Sadly, yes it is.

    You guys lived a middle/upper-middle class existence in India, which does not bear the brunt of the crime and is therefore, very safe compared to other places.

    The brunt of the crime goes on within the lower middle class/poor, who, out of fear, either do not report it, or solve it within themselves.

  3. Yes sir,
    You are absolutely right in your observation.

    India is a safe place(generally) in cities and absolutely rock solid safe outside city limits.
    I am stating from personal experiences.

  4. @Another Traveller: What rubbish.
    Crime is an equal opportunity employer in Delhi.There’s been several cases over the years of domestic help who murdered their usually rich employers and robbed them, usually elderly couples living alone.

  5. Seriously, you don’t believe 7 more rapes per 100,000 go unreported in Delhi? I would multiply that number by at least 10. And if you want to include domestic violence in that number, well, that is going to increase by 100 fold, cutting across all classes. Trust me, those sexually frustrated men are taking it out on women all over the place.

    Despite Rex’s protests, I’m going with Another Traveler’s opinion. It’s not that I think crime isn’t happening in the middle classes, but those are the classes that better access to reporting mechanisms and political power. Those are the classes to whom the police respond (if they respond at all), and those are the classes who have the power to punish.

    A poor man doesn’t steal the rich man’s car because the poor man would end up dead, plain and simple. No justice system in Delhi is going to prevent the car owner from serving up his own form of punishment.

  6. The issue of crime in Delhi is interesting (or appalling, depending on your perspective) not for the absolute numbers, but for the sheer intensity and the nature of the various crimes that are committed.

    True, a majority of crimes go unreported. The two commonest crimes (by anecdotal evidence) are domestic crime (wife-beating) and violence inflicted on housemaids. The latter violence ranges from beating up to branding to rape and in some cases murder (in which case, the crime goes into the NCRB list). The next “type” of crime is petty theft, which can be equated to mugging in New York or, in the case of my housemaid’s husband, the theft of his bicycle. These also go unreported for two reasons — the victims are apathetic to these crimes because they are petty, and two, the police refuse to file a complaint or an FIR (these are two different things in the Indian justice system). The refusal is also for two reasons — one, if an FIR is lodged, the police are obliged to investigate the case, which they certainly don’t want to as it may intrude upon their extortion time; and two, the chief inspector of a police station wants his jurisdiction to be the “most crime-free” so that his area or police station is rewarded by the state government.

    It is natural to assume, therefore, that Delhi’s published crime rate is low because of these reasons.

    It is also safe to assume (again from anecdotal evidence from police sources and the legal fraternity) that more than two-thirds of the cases go unreported or unrecorded. If all of these cases were (rapes, for instance, hardly get reported for reasons of social stigma) reported, Delhi’s (and Mumbai’s) crime rate would be much higher.

    A common expression of anger in Delhi is road rage, and because the “perpetrator” of that road rage many times carries a gun (and hence that courage to get down from the car and accost the other person), it is almost impossible to retaliate or report that “crime”. And what if you do get shot or your family threatened?

    The crime “scene” in Delhi and other Indian cities, therefore, is far more complex and complicated than just mere numbers published in the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report.

    The far bigger problem, according to me, is the extent to which the police are corrupted in Delhi. Charges are framed against business partners for a price (and then dropped for a bigger price), and that is just one crime. It is safe to assume that one of the most lucrative businesses in Delhi is getting your enemy “encountered” in a police action and branding him a terrorist or simply making him “disappear” with due help from police colleagues. A government report published earlier this year supplied statistics of how Delhi Police are most corrupt government servants in the country.

    Not that the New York Police are not corrupt, but the extent to which corruption has become part of the Delhi Police DNA is unbelievable.

    I believe Delhi is a far more dangerous place than Mumbai (or New York), not only because I hear about the multitude and the variety of crimes in our daily editorial meetings, but also because the law & order machinery is so inept and corrupt, it has compromised the safety of the city’s resident. Even if it means it is only a perception. To me, freedom is not only the ability to move around in the city feeling safe, but also KNOWING I would be able to move around in the city feeling safe. Unfortunately, how much ever I would like to disbelieve that Delhi is not a safe place to live, the evidence points to something else.

  7. Sachin has captured the real situation and I echo everything he has said.

    Among the upper classes problems, Sachin really hit with “It is safe to assume that one of the most lucrative businesses in Delhi is getting your enemy “encountered” in a police action and branding him a terrorist or simply making him “disappear” with due help from police colleagues.” – happened to my uncle for simply trying to res0lve a dispute between two of his neighbors, and getting one of the neighbors angry when he concluded that the other did have a legitimate complaint

  8. “[…]what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?”

    the food. its so good.

  9. Another Traveller

    Kudos Sachin. Brilliantly put.

    “but also because the law & order machinery is so inept and corrupt, it has compromised the safety of the city’s resident” and “freedom is not only the ability to move around in the city feeling safe, but also KNOWING I would be able to move around in the city feeling safe” sum it well.

    I don’t think Dave or Jenny would have ever needed to cross swords with the administration, and even if they had, they probably would have been treated like royalty.

  10. Notwithstanding all that Sachin has said, I have to say that experientially, I felt less safe at night in Chicago than I do in Delhi.

    Sachin exaggerates in his portrayal of road rage in Delhi — whether as a victim of road rage or of a pickpocket in Delhi, you can still be quite sure that the aggressor is not carrying a gun.

    In Delhi, you can be a victim of petty crime very often, and when you are, you know that the police, the justice system and even insurance companies are going to give you little or no succour. But you also pretty much know that you won’t get killed. That’s roughly the opposite of what you feel walking alone at night in Chicago or New York.

    I also however, admit that that’s an upper-class and definitely very male perspective. A woman suffers from such constant “eve-teasing”, harrassment and a high probability of rape in Delhi that she invariably feels much safer in Chicago or New York or Pune or Bombay.

    Dave, additionally you must factor in how everything is relative. When Delhiites complain about how unsafe the city is, many of them are really comparing it to other towns in the country, or to Delhi’s own past. It always strikes me e.g., how every Bangalorean is always telling how terrible Bangalore is these days, whereas I find it an absolutely wonderful place to stay.

  11. I’ve lived there all my life, and I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s probably a higher number of unreported crimes than what you project, but even that doesn’t make it as bad as the media portrayal. I am a young woman – supposedly the prime target of young, male crime – but I can count one or two incidents that have happened to me, nothing major. I lead a normal lifestyle — I go clubbing, use public transport, drive alone at times. Delhi is not the safest place in the world by any standard, but it’s definitely not as bad as it’s made out to be.

  12. It looks like this article has been well read, and for that you have my thanks as a Delhiite.
    The problem with a lot of people is, that they simply refuse to believe any evidence to the contrary once they have formed their opinions. Just like some extreme cases in Copenhagen right now:)

    The truth is, if we have to count on ‘unreported’ crimes like wife beating and housemaid beating to justify Delhi as crime king, we ought to see some figures there. By the same logic, even other cities would have degrees of unreported crimes.
    The real truth is, it is a miracle, and indeed the biggest truth we shd be thankful about. Nowhere else on earth will you see inquality on this scale being suffered stoically by the vast majority of the people on the wrong side of the inequality.
    For the gentleman complaining about household help murdering their employees, refer to the claim on rereported crime on househelps. That evens it out I suppose.

    An interesting argument on the other hand is that Delhi is the most crime tolerant place going around.. These are the small everyday crimes comitted in their thousands everyday, which go unreported and unpunished. The traffic offences everyone is guilty of, the electricity thefts, water pilferage or misuse by the rich, routine submission of incorrect data while applying for phones/passport/credit cards etc are unbelievably high, and deserving of a separate body of research in itself.

  13. Great comments thread. One point though.. While I can appreciate Sachin’s rant on the police, doesn’t it make it even more incredible that the crime rate is what it is? With the limited police so busy collecting bribes and extorting and knocking off ‘good’ people , it would seem like god is really watching over Delhi to keep the crime rate where it is. Explains the peaceful behaviour of the young, hungry and disadvantaged here;)

  14. Pingback: Is Delhi actually that dangerous? | DesiPundit

  15. Having lived in Delhi pretty much till the age of 20, I never thought it was unsafe. But it was when I lived in Hyderabad, Bombay and spent some time in Chennai and Blore, and went back to Delhi that I realised how hard it was to live a normal life in the city.

    I think that’s probably the basis of calling it an unsafe city. It’s not that Bombay didn’t have its issues, or that Blore didn’t have its ‘eve-teasers’ – but that in Delhi, the administration didn’t treat you any better. I am scared of cops in Delhi having been nearly mauled by one. In Bombay, I automatically trust the cop. He maybe corrupt, but usually is more compassionate.

    If you drive a car in Delhi, and live in a safe place where there’s a chowkidaar, you’re okay I think. It’s when you need to take public transport to college, or live alone, and are female that the trouble begins. If I were a man, or a woman constantly accompanied by a man – life would be lovely in Delhi. But as a woman walking alone – there’s constant fear.

    It’s the things you cannot report. The constant pinching and feeling up on public transport. The vile comments that come your way. The way a cop will ‘cop a feel’ when you’re alone in a park. The way two boys on a bike will slap your ass while you’re walking. Sure you have them in other cities, but the indifference and the apathy makes it worse.

  16. Hmm. It has to be said that Delhi is unsafe for women. My partner and I walk at all hours and all times in all kinds of places without fear, but she would not feel so safe without me.

    And crime is under reported, no doubt. I’ve seen police deal with attempted rape by taking the fellow down the road and slapping him around. No report. Very little justice.

    And a lot of unreported crime is done on poor people every day. They don’t get clean water or adequate sanitation, for one thing, and as a result many die of preventable sickness.

    But given the inequalities you mention, I’ve always thought it strange there is not more class based violence. I’m sure someone will have a quick answer for that, but I do think it bears thinking about.


  17. have you ever tried reporting a crime at the police station?

    ..well for you it will be easy if it is a majour police statioion or for foreigners/rich/celeb people etc because they will not easily show their true colors

    but believe you me, half the time reporting a crime exposes one to even harsher crime by the police/authoritires themselves, not the worst being bribe money… looting by the police or if the reporting person is a lone girl then you can assume the worst.

  18. “what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?”

    Thought Gotham was the nick name of New York..Gotham City is New York at night.

    And probably Delhi in the mornings 🙂

  19. I am from Chennai, I studied in Delhi for two years and then worked in Bombay for another two and half years.

    I agree with the comment that ‘knowing’ a city is safe is what is important and the role of authorities is critical in this.

    It is not that women do not get groped and raped in Chennai. About 7 yrs back, a college student died because of eve-teasing. This created a huge uproar and a lot of things changed after this.

    Eve-teasing was made a punishable offence and the perpetrators booked under the Goondas act. At the start of every academic year, police visits colleges in the city and reads out sections of the goondas act to make you aware of what all is considered a crime and what punishments you get.

    Many, all women police stations were opened – as a response to women not feeling safe with male cops and crime against women within police stations. Women cops are present everyday outside girls’ colleges during the start and ending sessions.

    Buses have been redesigned. Previously, in a Chennai bus, the left side would be for women and the right side for men – incidence of eve-teasing and groping were highest in buses. Now buses have a central entry point and the front side is for women and the backside for men. This has drastically reduced incidence of eve-teasing in buses.

    It is things like this that make you feel safer. I have not had any issues during my stay in Delhi and Bombay, however, I feel much safer in Bombay and Chennai, than Delhi.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    There’s actually a hidden world that operates in major Indian cities and is not apparent to most people, especially the middle class. I would recommend that you watch this video on youtube to get a sense of what I am referring to:

    The first few minutes of this chilling video will shock you and that is an understatement. Although this talk is not directly related to the topic on hand, it does give you a glimpse into this hidden world and then it becomes easy to believe that crime statistics are grossly underreported in India.

  21. When is your book coming coming out? I so can’t wait!!!!!!!!!!Hurry,already!

  22. In addition to all the above comments, the reasons for less violent crime are:

    a.) Less availability(legal or illegal) of firearms, compared to the US.
    b.) Less random crime( drug related or otherwise) on strangers, as happens in US cities, fueled by easy availability of guns
    c.) Vegetarian diets and a chronic sense of hunger!!!

  23. I’ll tell you why… thats how things work in India… people don’t turn to sex or violence to vent their frustration… eastern values and tradition suggest less exciting options.

    Talk to your parents… help an old man across the street… visit a holy place and try bribing God…

    Thats why Delhi has the highest rate. Considering that as the Capital city, it is the most westernized. No offence to the western world, btw!

  24. Well .. if not dangerous, the heart of Delhi is not at the right place; for me, at least – check this out:

  25. “The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?”


  26. I dont know. My brush with Delhi police has been decent and I would say the corruption is clear when its there. Yes, they might ask for money, but at least they ask for it and then work at the crime wholeheartedly. Much better than you wondering if they are doing anything and whether you need to pay up or not.
    Also, I agree with D&J that crime may be lower per se in Delhi. That may have something to do with ppl being more cautious, and the culture.
    A parking guy will not run off with a big car because he is trusted. In a city where language is fierce and fisticuffs common, trust, is still valued. Trust someone and they will not let go of your trust in them.
    Mostly. (I cant speak for 100% population)

  27. @ Neha, sorry you had to go through all that.

    @ Dips, I agree with you.

  28. You have stated some crime statistics that appear to show that Delhi is safer than NYC. However, only 1 in 10 crimes are actually reported. If you take that into account, you would realize why Delhi is “dangerous”

  29. My few cents :

    1. Rapes are not reported because then you have probably ruined all chances your sister/daughter/ niece will ever get married.

    2. Your house gets robbed and you can’t report the theft of your black money that you were hiding under the mattress ! 😉

    3. Fire brigade comes to put out the kitchen fire and then magically your camera and dvd player are “lost” from the bedroom.

    4. Why would anyone file a complaint against a neighbor when s/he happens to be the Home minister’s relative?

    5. Your tenants need to be evicted? Police will suggest you pay the family to move out instead of starting a court battle that may take 15 yrs.

    6. The cops may even come to your house and suggest you take back a lost property complaint so that they may clear up the backlog of cases at the end of the year.

    And I don’t mean to say these things are unique to Delhi. I live in a Calif city which is consistently ranked in the top10 safest cities in the US. Here too our police Dept and the DA charge and plea bargain crimes such that the statistics don’t vary too much.

  30. Hey,

    Really appreciate the fresh perspective.

    About the rapes and murders per 100,000 people being low, I can not comment on. But I believe that the news about robberies being about smaller amounts is that bigger robberies are going on in the Government Organizations through bribes and scams.. A recent article about a 4 Crore worth of equipment purchased by an IIT was lying unused simply underlines the way money is siphoned off from Government organizations.

    Thus even if the Robberies in the Private space aren’t that large, the Robberies for the general Public are the order of the day and I believe more important in the above discussion.


  31. First of all – a very interesting blog – I have enjoyed reading your posts thoroughly!

    I am too a little new to the whole Indian space, as while my parents are Indian, they emigrated quite a while back while I was young.

    I, too, sometime marvel at this strange level of “trust” that binds Indian together – and hence the parking man not taking that Benz for a spin after the owner hands them the keys and 10 rupees.

    A few observations I had:
    1. Indian on the Lower end of society are more afraid of committing crimes against those in the higher end simply because they don’t understand how to get away with their crimes – I have a hunch that they simply don’t go ahead with it as they can’t seem to work out how to finish the job or simply are afraid of the “powerful allies” that the person may have. I guess in a way that’s smart and opportunistic from a criminal perspective and it’s the same everywhere.

    2. A lot of things can be resolved with “tatkal karwai” or (roughly) instant justice. Sounds funny at first, but its true. I had a experience where a person had a heavy steel pipe concealed on top of his motorcycle exhaust. Upon asking him why he needs it he replied to me – “Boss – tatkal karwai”

    3. Apathetic nature of society – Indians have a much lower standard reaction to some forms of crime it seems (although it may be heavily covered in the news). Domestic violence, some small forms of assaults etc. To give a better example, compare this to a discovery chanel 26/11 documentry in which a tourist described how he saw a man in a building next to the Taj happily brushing his teeth even as bullets were being fired.

    4. Stats are stats – there’s “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” – you can do the math on that 🙂
    And again, its the same everywhere… police always play down crime stats… only problem overseas is that there is more “proof” of crime and governance.. something that is very very slowly catching up in India

  32. Pingback: Crime graph: Delhi vs New York at Asian Window

  33. If your atrilecs are always this helpful, “I’ll be back.”

  34. Hellow Mr Dave,
    Thanks for the nice article.

    Its true. Delhi is not as unsafe as its made out to be. And the statistics prove that.Its to be noted that while some of the rapes may go unreported but Murders are extremely rare to go unreported. And media hammers so much day in and day out about “unsafe” delhi that even the people who live in Delhi and never ever othewise felt unsafe or faced crime, may too start believing it. As its said, a lie told 100 times seemingly becomes truth.
    The image of Delhi as “unsafe” is due to media Sensationalism and due to the fact that Delhites dont care for their city and its image unlike other major cities in India. For example in India when you talk about Mumbai or Kolkata, immediately marathi or bengali pride will come into picture, but for Delhi there is no such pride or Chauvinism.
    Also Indian media seems immature and helbent on Sensationalism. Its Indian media only who created hue and cry about “unpreparedness” of Delhi during commonwealth games. And then it was a slap on media and Delhi bashers when games went smoothly and perfectly and were among the best commonwealth games ever.

  35. Pingback: E-Sandesh » Why Rape Seems Worse in India Than Everywhere Else (but Actually Isn’t)

  36. Pingback: Why Rape Seems Worse in India Than Everywhere Else (but Actually Isn’t) | Enchanting India

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