This article has been written by Raslin Saluja, from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. The author analyzes the statistics of homicide and the effects of lockdown on criminal activity along with its possible causes.


The first case of COVID-19 that was recorded in India was on 30th January 2020. And with the ever-increasing numbers, the government took the necessary preventive steps. This included imposing travelling restrictions, medical screenings, and a nationwide stay-at-home lockdown on and off for about 3 months. This has been one of a kind instance in the history of the country. The country witnessed workers returning back to their villages walking, loss of livelihood, loss of accommodation, and mass termination. To say that the pandemic has affected the mental health of the people would be an understatement.

Analyzing the statistics

The crime rate, in general, did go down considering that people remained indoors, however, even in the given scenario, states manage to register a substantial number of murder cases. Though cybercrimes and cases of domestic violence and torture were on a rise, the nation continued to witness homicide alongside.

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According to the Delhi police report, a total of 472 such cases were registered in 2020 while 521 were registered in 2019, observing a reduction by 9.40 percent. For Mumbai, the data reflected that for the year 2020, 148 murder cases were registered, whereas the number in 2019 was 165. Even attempt to murder cases showed an increase in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, 348 cases of attempt to murder were registered compared to 343 cases in 2019. 

Even the statistics of the State Crime Record Bureau of Bihar disclosed how the crime graph in the state is on the rise with 2,406 cases of murders and 1,106 rape incidents being reported in the past nine months. The state of Odisha also gave shocking results as the data revealed at least 8 rapes and 4 murders a day even though it remained for much of the year under the curbs of lockdown and it’s after impact. While the crime figures of Gujarat shared in the Legislative Assembly revealed that on average two murders, four incidents of rape, and six kidnappings occurred every day in the state in the last two years.

The latest crime data of Kerala police revealed that though crimes like burglary, theft, rape and kidnapping have fallen in 2020, offences like murder, cheating, and cyber crimes have witnessed an increase in the year. As per the provisional crime data of Kerala Police for 2020, the number of murders increased from 287 in 2019 to 303. The interesting part is that this data is not restricted to India only, a spike in murder cases has also been recorded worldwide. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that homicides were up nearly 40% for the country’s 10 largest police departments in the first 11 months of 2020 compared to that of last year. The clearance rate at nine departments that provided data was down by an average of 7 percentage points to about 59%. 

Some countries of Latin America recorded higher homicide rates than others. In Brazil, there was an increase during the first quarter of 2020 but in Mexico, the trend remained fairly unchanged. The combined data of 11 countries of Europe suggested a decrease in homicide crimes in April 2020. 

While in South Africa, there was an overall decline in serious assault cases which plummeted from 2,673 to 456, and murders fell from 326 to 94. Jamaica recorded 1,301 killings in 2020 and had the region’s highest homicide rate at 46.5 per 100,000 people, according to official data published by the Constabulary Force.

Based on these online media reports upon comparison with 2019 indicate that criminal activity has continued to take place. Even at this standstill, the impact of lockdown on crimes has not been much. Though there is no systematic data on the number of murder cases, lockdown or no lockdown, serious crimes have largely remained unchanged.

Does lockdown affect criminal activity?

By virtue of their nature, pandemics affect vast geographical areas and large scales of population. It is times like these where community cooperation and collaboration are required. Thus, when the respective governments take leadership to ensure the measures are implemented effectively, it becomes the duty of the citizens to coordinate diligently. This has brought various implications in our day-to-day life. To see that on a more positive note, the complete lockdown, closing of establishments, and travel restrictions have to some extent reduced criminal activity. This might be seen as an unexpected benefit. But where certain crimes have been significantly reduced like that of robbery, theft, burglary, others have increased like that of cyber crimes, cheating, domestic abuse, etc. 

While analyzing the impact, it is also important to keep in mind that different crimes require different settings. However, the decline could also be the result of less reporting. The impact across the jurisdictions has varied and significant change was short-lived only to return back to the pre-pandemic statistics as the restrictions were being lifted slowly. According to the Crime Brief 2020, the data collected from 20 countries displayed varied trends as in some countries the decreased homicide trends in March/April 2020 was more than 25 percent larger than the average of those months in years 2015-2019. But there have not been uniform trends across the countries. These vary depending upon the level of restrictions by different Governments, the existing socio-economic conditions, and the form of predominant violence.

There are two ways of looking at it, in the short term crime can get significantly reduced. As for when the lockdown was enforced, most people remained indoors which in turn reduced the opportunity of being victim to street crimes, organized crimes, or group crimes. Closure of establishments also reduced the possibility of assault outside the domestic sphere. However, in the longer turn of events – continuously being deprived of social interaction, restriction in mobility, loss of livelihood, and unemployment especially for the more vulnerable groups could trigger resort to crime.

Possible causes

The measures have different impacts on various people. To stay quarantined and in isolation in absence of any social interaction has made people desperate. And with nothing to focus on, they turn to each other. Breakdown of social networks, fear of contracting the virus, loneliness, unemployment, financial issues, social disengagement, mental stress and anxiety, the concentration of poverty, hostile feelings, domestic abuse are among other reasons that might contribute to homicide. It remains an undisputed fact that change in social conditions and increasing irritation heightens the chances of activating the criminal state of mind.

On the other hand, legal reasons like delay in court proceedings and police force segregation to enforce lockdowns and movement restrictions were complied to, further added pressure on the police and gave chance to the perpetrators despite the lack of potential victims. The fact that thousands of criminals were released on parole in lieu of overcrowded jails and lockdown also contributes to the commission of a crime. And though the streets remained empty, many family members and people in close vicinity became the target of the criminal behaviour.


As mentioned earlier, there might be a slight decrease in the numbers but the lockdown did not prevent the perpetrators from getting in action. Reasons could be different for the commission of the offence, like for some declining mental health while for others fear of the virus, some became the victim of domestic killings while others due to their lower caste. Some cases to support these factors are mentioned as follows:

In April of 2020, a physically challenged man of Uttar Pradesh killed a 65-year-old woman. He was infuriated at her for not selling the house to him and instead to another neighbour. While another horrifying incident reported in January of 2021 was one where a highly educated couple hailing from Andhra Pradesh was accused of killing their children. The mother was in the delusion of being the human form of coronavirus and that nothing could hurt her. The couple believed that the virus was made by God. Both the accused were alleged to have performed a puja and murdered their two daughters believing they will come back to life. Later the woman was claimed to be a patient of severe psychiatric disorder while her husband was found to be struggling with depression and was in a suicidal state.  

In other news, a man killed his own brother for stepping out in the lockdown despite the repetitive warnings. Another such bizarre incident took place in Chennai where a 35-year-old  man who had just returned from Srilanka killed a woman. He was under home quarantine but suddenly went running out naked and bit a woman to death. No such enmity or previous links could be found between the man and that lady who lived two streets away. 

Then, a murder convict who was released on parole to decongest the jail killed another man over gambling. Domestic violence was at its peak during the lockdown period and eventually, the abuse turned into murder in a few cases. Like a 42-year-old man allegedly murdered his wife in front of their daughter, suspecting her of infidelity in a fit of rage. This happened days after the family was quarantined in a temple in Dodderi in Karnataka following the lockdown guidelines. Further, many Dalits were victimized out of which, the majority of the attacks have gone unreported – these include the murder of at least 11 Dalit men and three Dalit women who were fed human excrement and accused of being witches. 

In March 2020, a Dalit youth was beaten to death in Morappanthangal – Tamil Nadu for falling in love with a woman from a dominant caste. The murder was committed by the woman’s father and relative. 

Even previous studies reflecting the psychosocial effects during the times of outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have shown negative psychological outcomes such as high levels of depression among those who were impacted by the pandemic. Similar comparable trends have been shown in the literature on the psycho-social impact of the ebola outbreak and the Nipah virus. Survivors of these outbreaks have been known to report experiencing fear of death, stigma from the community, and discrimination and violence in some cases.


Certainly, the pandemic has been a hard time for a lot of people and has brought out their worst behaviour. The reaction does not only depend on external factors but also personal internal ones. It is common to have feelings of boredom, fear, anxiety, stigma, anger, frustration, and worry. Not only does it possess disease spread and mortality risk but also emotional and psychological effects. Measures used to contain the virus transmissions like quarantine, social isolation, and social distancing might lead to psychological disorders. Besides triggering harmful feelings like that of suicide, it also targets many vulnerable groups. In such a way, the government could provide health assistance programs to cater to the emotional needs of people, especially the vulnerable ones.


  •  Rawat M. Coronavirus in India: tracking country’s first 50 COVID-19 cases; what numbers tell. India Today Magazine. 2020;1–10
  •  UNODC, Effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions on homicide and property crime.

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