Breaking the Myth. Facing the Reality.
“No way!” yelled my father when I tried to persuade him to let me fill out the forms for admission into Delhi University. “Don’t you know how unsafe the city is?” added my mother who was as furious as father. It was after my standard 12 results that I was keen on pursuing Bachelor of Arts in the prestigious Lady Shreeram College in Delhi. I finally enrolled myself in Sophia college, Mumbai, much to the joy of my parents, who, like many, unequivocally believe in the myth of Mumbai being highly safe for women.
After the unfortunate incident that occurred in Andheri, where Young Keenan and Reuben were brutally assaulted on the streets for raising their voice against the lewd remarks that were being passed on the women friends in their group, the city was shaken to the core. Mumbaikars woke up to the fact that it is not only the woman who is unsafe on the streets of Mumbai, but also the man who dares to intervene when the woman is being harassed sexually. But the sad aspect is that the aforementioned incident could have been averted had people and the police been a little more aware of the falling standards of safety in the city.
Miss Kaschit Mishra, a clinical psychologist, recalls one such incident. “I had just got off at Kurla station and was heading towards the bridge. The CST bound train on the harbour line arrived and the commuters walked up the bridge while an equally heavy crowd, including me, were walking down the stairs. The man behind me was practically clinging on to my body trying to feel me up. As I turned around and yelled at him, another man groped me from the left side. I held his arm and twisted it. All I wanted was to drag both the miscreants to the RPF station. But they managed to disappear in the crowd.”
A student at Sophia College remembers how a man tried to rub against her on a crowded BEST bus. “It is a lot safer in trains where at least you have the ladies compartment. But on a bus, it becomes very easy for men to harass you. I yelled at him and so did the other women on the bus. He eventually got off,” she said.
Though Mumbai, as opposed to Delhi, is better in terms of gathering support from bystanders during incidents of sexual harassment, this does not always hold true. In 2007, a woman was practically stripped and raped in full public view in the middle of a huge crowd that gathered at the Gateway of India to celebrate New Year. The Hindustan times- Akshara Survey conducted by Cfore Market Research Company, reports that out of 4,255 women, 99 per cent feel unsafe on the roads of Mumbai. According to government statistics, as reported by NDTV India, Mumbai alone recorded a whopping number of 194 rape cases in the year 2010. The figure is just a number, which in reality is way lower than the actual cases of rape and sexual assault that happen. The Indian Penal Code states that only penile penetration qualifies as rape, and not the other forms of penetration, which results in the sweeping away of many brutal sexual assaults in the name of “Outraging Modesty”.
Newspapers carry incidents of rising sexual harassment on an everyday basis. Hindustan Times had dedicated two pages on this particular issue for the month of July and even goes out of its way to interview the police, college students, both male and female, professionals from different fields, women who have been sexually assaulted in the past. It is important for women to know about their rights when it comes to incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is important for people to gather and protest against miscreants who have turned the once safe Mumbai into a city as unsafe as Delhi. Laws must be more severe. Instances of stalking that are on a rise must not be taken casually. CCTVs must be set up in buses, trains and public spaces. Besides the helpline 103, that is available across the state of Maharashtra, more and more police squads must be formed to look into the gravity of the situation. The Indian Penal Code requires changes and additions that can empower both men and women. Also, the language in the various sections needs to be less ambiguous and more lucid.
It is important to turn the myth of a safe Mumbai into reality. Women must not feel that they have got no choice but to keep quiet. The issue of Sexual harassment in educational institutes, workplaces and public spaces must be addressed with equal seriousness as Terror attacks and blasts.
NEEL KAMAL MISHRA
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN