NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment and other crimes against women in India rose by 6.4 percent in 2012 from the previous year, the government said, with the highest number of rapes recorded in the capital city.
Statistics showed that 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the police in 2012 compared with 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB).
These crimes include rapes, kidnappings, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also include crimes in which a woman was driven to suicide as a result of demands for a dowry from her husband or in-laws.
The NCRB said West Bengal, bordering Bangladesh, recorded the highest number of gender crimes at 30,942 - 12.7 percent of India's total recorded crimes against women.
Police attributed the rise to more women breaking their silence in the largely patriarchal, conservative country and coming forward to report the abuses they face.
"The crimes have not increased. More people are reporting. This should not be seen in a negative sense," said a senior police officer who asked not to be named.
But women's rights groups said that while this was true, the figures also indicated a rise in gender violence.
"The number of women coming forward is increasing for sure, but it's still a very tiny amount, so it (the increase) can't all be attributed to that," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a non-governmental organisation that works for the rights of women and girls in India. "Crimes against women have increased also."
Deep-rooted attitudes that view women as having a lower status than men have meant that Indian girls and women face a barrage of threats ranging from human trafficking and sexual violence to child marriage and acid attacks, say experts.
The high-profile murder and gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in Delhi in December led to country-wide protests for better security and sparked national debate about gender inequalities in India.
As a result, parliament passed a tougher law on sex crimes in March.
The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by almost 3 percent to 24,923, with Delhi reporting 706 rapes in 2012 - making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India's "rape capital".
India's biggest city and business capital Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 232 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 90 rapes.
The NCRB, which this year provided more detailed statistics on gender crimes such as the ages of victims and their relationship to their assailants, said most rapes reported were committed by people known to the victims.
In fact, 98 percent of those who reported rapes last year named parents, relatives and neighbours as the accused.
Women's rights groups say the figures are still gross underestimates of the reality on the ground - women are often too scared to come forward to report rapes or domestic violence for fear their families and communities will shun them.