It has been exactly a year after a 22-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped and assaulted by six people in a moving bus in South Delhi. She lost her life a few days later. However, protests across the world, goaded police and the policymakers to stand up and take charge. The safety and security of women became a prerogative for lawmakers and political leaders.
However, despite the hue and cry, helpline launches, beefed up security and increase in patrolling, women still do not feel completely safe in the city that once held the distinction of being the safest in the country. Geeta Sharma, 25, a call centre executive, has been carrying a Swiss army knife and pepper spray over the last one year every time she goes out. “I grew up in this city. For 24 years, I never felt the need to carry a knife or a pepper spray. But seeing the number of sexual harassment cases that happen in the city daily basis, I am quite intimidated. I travel by a company cab, but I always fear being exploited by the driver or co-passengers,” she said.
About four months ago, a 23-year-old nurse was attacked by an inebriated man around 5:30am in the ladies’ compartment of a local. Recalling the incident, she said, “I was alone in the compartment. I boarded the train from Mumbai Central to Dadar. The man got in at Mahalaxmi and, seeing me alone, started misbehaving. Thankfully, I was able to get help at the next station when the train halted. I’m always sceptical about getting into Mumbai locals at night,” she said.
According to the latest statistics, the number of crimes against women in Mumbai increased from 1,390 in 2012 to 2,607 this year. There have been 338 cases of rape reported this year, compared to 193 last year. Be it beaches, secluded spots or even crowded places like malls or railway platforms, women do not feel that this bustling metropolis is safe anymore.
The police maintain that it is due to their initiatives taken in coordination with NGOs and women’s organisations that more women are coming forward to register complaints. Sadanand Date, joint commissioner of police, law and order, said, “After the brutal gang rape in Delhi, we have made several changes in policing. We have deputed five lady constables in smaller police stations and ten in bigger ones. Apart from that, there are two police officers in every station.” He also said a lady zonal officer has been posted in each zone at night to help victims register complaints.
The police have also tied up with NGOs to train police officers. “We know that women are not upfront in filing complaints as they fear police attitude. We have introduced training for police personnel to make them more sensitive to handle such cases,” said Date.
“We have also motivated women’s organisations to come forward with complaints,” said Date. While the 103 helpline has been a dedicated one, the police are planning to enhance the system by training operators and introducing two more lines.
The Mumbai police also started an initiative which ensured that if a working woman has to visit a isolated or abandoned place while on official duty, and if her superior is unable to provide security due to shortage of time, she can seek security from the police. The police also reviewed more than 200 isolated spots across the city. “We have asked owners and caretakers of all these spots to depute security and protection. It is a continuous process and we are keeping a strict vigil on this.”
However, many feel that despite such announcements, and even after the amendment of rape laws, the situation at the ground level is not very encouraging.
Abha Singh, a city-based lawyer and a women’s activist, said, “We have strong laws, no doubt. However, in terms of preventing crimes, we are a failure. It is high time that the police maintain vigil on juveniles who commit petty crimes. We talk about awareness and empowerment, but sadly, mindsets have to change. Education and upbringing are important. I think we have not created enough fear. Crimes against woman continue to grow and the situation is only becoming worse by the day.”