The Power of Political Voice: Women’s Political Representation and Crime in India

by Lakshmi Iyer, Anandi Mani, Prachi Mishra & Petia Topalova

Overview — Protecting the rights of disadvantaged citizens remains a challenge in both developing and developed countries. These individuals often are targets of verbal abuse, discrimination, and violent crime. Using evidence from India, this paper shows that political representation of disadvantaged groups is an important means of giving them a voice in the criminal justice system. Research was conducted by Lakshmi Iyer of Harvard Business School, Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick, and Prachi Mishra and Petia Topalova of the International Monetary Fund. Key concepts include:

  • An Indian law enacted in 1993 mandated that at least one-third of council seats at the village, intermediate, or district level must be filled by women.
  • The rise in female representation led to a rise in the number of reported crimes against women. The researchers take these statistics as positive news for women's empowerment. They provide supporting evidence that this is an indication of women now being more likely to report when they are attacked, rather than an increase in the actual incidence of crime.
  • Female political representation at the local level also induces law enforcement officials to be more responsive to crimes against women.
  • The researchers found similar results in the case of crimes against Scheduled Castes (SC)-the so-called untouchables that have historically been at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. An increase in SC political representation led to an increase of documented crimes against SCs.

Author Abstract

Using state-level variation in the timing of political reforms, we find that an increase in female representation in local government induces a large and significant rise in documented crimes against women in India. Our evidence suggests that this increase is good news, driven primarily by greater reporting rather than greater incidence of such crimes. In contrast, we find no increase in crimes against men or gender-neutral crimes. We also examine the effectiveness of alternative forms of political representation: large-scale membership of women in local councils affects crime against them more than their presence in higher level leadership positions.

Paper Information