Less than a year after a photojournalist and a call centre employee, in two separate incidents, were gangraped in the deserted Shakti Mills, a sessions court has found the five adult perpetrators guilty. The quantum of punishment will be decided by the court today. The trial of the two minors, involved in the gangrapes, is still on, and it can be safely assumed that they too will be pronounced guilty.
Understandably, in the wake of the crimes, the myth of Mumbai being a safe and women-friendly city was busted. The devil-may-care attitude of the perpetrators, the brutal nature of the crimes, and the venue — the compound is in the heart of the city which is bustling at all hours — mirrored Mumbai’s transformation. It has turned into a heartless metropolis which cares little about its women. Make no mistake: Women here are as vulnerable to all sorts of crimes as their counterparts in other parts of India.
True, the Mumbai police showed alacrity and resoluteness in the two cases, nabbing the criminals in record time. However, such exceptional promptness is usually reserved for high profile cases — that one of the women victims of sexual violence was from the media played no small part in inducing the police and the Chief Minister to act on a war-footing. Possibly, the state’s ruling dispensation was apprehensive of having to deal with another nationwide outrage that had followed the rape of a young physiotherapist in Delhi on December 16, 2012.
The Delhi case was a watershed, forcing the otherwise callous and indifferent political class to come up with a slew of measures, including a progressive legal framework, to ensure the safety of women in public and private spaces. But rapes are a reality that cannot be dealt with by mere laws, or even their effective implementation, though implementation continues to remain a major cause of worry in India.
Today guards are posted at Shakti Mills; the compound is adequately illuminated and it will soon have a boundary wall with barbed wire fencing, ostensibly to keep criminal elements in the neighbourhood at bay.
But, the administration’s responsibilities should not end at that. Over the years, a sharp rise in incidence of sexual violence, including rape and molestation, has given Mumbai the dubious distinction of the crime capital of Maharashtra. Mumbai police’s records show that the city has witnessed a three-fold increase in rapes in the first three months of 2013 when compared to the same period the year before. In July, 2013, alone, 224 rape cases were registered — an alarming rise if one considers that in 2012 a total of 232 such crimes were reported. There has also been a spike in molestation cases, with 635 cases being registered in the first seven months of 2013; the total number of such cases in 2012 was 614. As per 2013 statistics, minors too have become increasingly vulnerable.
It’s not that women are safe from rapists and molesters in the rest of the state. Maharashtra contributes to seven per cent of crimes against women in the country. Such a state of affairs points to an ominous trend. In spite of strict laws, offenders still aren’t deterred. The system, too, is hostile, though recent laws have made it mandatory for a medical institution to accord respect and privacy to a victim.
The key to enduring change is a radical change in our mindset. We are still far, far away from achieving that.