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Updated: September 1, 2013 10:30 IST

Mumbai is still a safe city

Jyoti Punwani
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Women protest agians the gang rape of the photojournalist on a local train in Mumbai on Wednesday.
PTI Women protest agians the gang rape of the photojournalist on a local train in Mumbai on Wednesday.

It could do with better policing and a change in male attitudes, but women can still go about their lives more confidently than elsewhere

Every time a woman gets sexually assaulted in Mumbai, a hysterical outburst goes up that the safest city for women is no longer so. But what makes a city unsafe for women? Do women in Mumbai dread stepping out of their homes every day?

The answer has to be no. The factors that ensured women have felt safe in this city all these decades have not changed.

Once our most industrialised city, Mumbai has had a long tradition of women working. This has meant that they are not considered “forward” when they are out on the streets. In Mumbai, a woman outside her home isn’t a rare sight; at any time of the day or night, you can see many of them, on the streets, or out on the sea front.

Belonging in the public space

The way they walk — briskly, purposefully, and without being self-conscious — speaks of their confidence. Women don’t stand out, they merge into the crowds that spill out every morning at Churchgate and Victoria Terminus, the main local train stations in the business district of South Mumbai. And you don’t see them only during rush hour. They flow with the city’s tide of working people — as late as 8 p.m., you can see women, just as you can see men, making their way to railway stations or waiting at bus stops to start their return journeys home.

Mumbai’s public transport is the other reason women can move around safely even after midnight. Be it the last train or the last bus, you will find women on it. The conductor on the last bus will give you a ticket without a second glance. He won't consider you fair game because you are out so late. And men will risk their lives running to the general compartment of the last local train rather than hop on to the nearer “ladies’ compartment”. That space is reserved for women, and the men know it. Why women are safe in Mumbai is that they belong in its public spaces; they know this, so does the city.

Strategies for coping

This is not to be in denial about the entire gamut of unwanted sexual contact that women face in Mumbai, from staring to groping. Mumbai’s crowds ensure safety both for women and their predators. Every woman has had to learn to cope. Shielding your body with your elbows and your handbag as best as you can; turning around swiftly to confront the groper behind you; avoiding deserted roads late at night as well as roads full of drunken men (on New Year’s Eve or Holi); never travelling in the general compartment of a local train except when — and this is crucial — the ladies’ compartment is empty; and learning to ignore stares and comments, are some of the ground rules one breaks at one’s own risk. There’s no getting away from these rules if you want to feel confident enough to be on the move any time in Mumbai.

It would help enormously if constables were posted in ladies’ compartments every night; and 24/7 during the week preceding Holi, when female commuters are specially targeted with balloons full of dirty water. But liberation from these rules will not come only with more effective policing. The police themselves, like most Indian men, look at women as sex objects. “Bhog ki cheez [a sex object]”, is how a male MP described women during a discussion in Parliament in the 1980s. Not much has changed in three decades. Last week, Sena MLA Anil Kadam, angry with female attendants at a toll booth, threatened to have them stripped.

Such attitudes won’t change till we start dinning into our sons’ heads from childhood that girls are their equals; their bodies are their own, not public property; that being a “hero” means respecting women. Far from doing that, our enlightened State has banned sex education in schools, which is the first step towards inculcating a healthy attitude towards girls’ bodies among boys. In Mumbai, we have the additional factor of class resentment, where men, mostly poor, coming to work here from States where women are not so visible, have to deal with confident women all around them.

Could what happened last week in Mumbai have been prevented? How could the intern and her male colleague — or even their editor — have known that the deserted mill was a haven for petty criminals? The only precaution they could have taken was to have gone there in broad daylight, but would even that have helped? Picture a young woman and man on an assignment in a vast, abandoned structure, whose layout they are completely unfamiliar with, encountering a bunch of petty criminals, society’s drop-outs, who frequent police lock-ups and are hence unafraid of the law. A pack of wolves had unexpectedly found some prey.

Can we judge how safe a city is on the basis of such a situation? It’s revealing that the intern herself has said she wants to get back to work as soon as possible. Obviously, her faith in Mumbai hasn’t been shaken.

(The writer is a leading columnist. Email: jyoti.punwani@gmail.com)

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The headline is a commentary of our state of mind. We just repeat ah
but we are still better than Delhi, just look at it Mumbai has moved
back over the last 3 decades instead of moving ahead. Gang rapes of
this kind would not have entered the minds of most anti social
elements then 'cause of the Mumbai police. Today the Mumbai police is sadly a shadow of itself. The
people of the city too have dropped in their morality. The poor and
the desperate would have resorted to petty theft but not rape.

from:  Anthony
Posted on: Aug 30, 2013 at 12:13 IST

The way they walk — briskly, purosefully, and without being self-
conscious — speaks of their confidence. Women don’t stand out, they
merge into the crowds that spill out every morning at Churchgate and
Victoria Terminus, the main local train stations in the business
district of South Mumbai. And you don’t see them only during rush
hour. They flow with the city’s tide of working people — as late as 8
p.m., you can see women, just as you can see men, making their way to
railway stations or waiting at bus stops to start their return
journeys home.

Mumbai’s public transport is the other reason women can move around
safely even after midnight. Be it the last train or the last bus, you
will find women on it. The conductor on the last bus will give you a
ticket without a second glance. He won’t consider assume you as are
fair game because you are out so late. And men will risk their lives
running to the general compartment of the last local train rather than
hop on to the nearer “ladies’ compartment

from:  tryrd
Posted on: Aug 30, 2013 at 10:29 IST

It no longer matters trying to reclaim Mumbai’s image. This is not Mumbai’s
problem alone – it is a problem across India. The fact that women are back on
trains/buses traveling in the night is not a sign of things getting better it is only a
sign of the willingness of the city to anesthetize itself to not having to think about
the scale and magnitude of the issue in front of it.
It is does not matter that it takes only three days after what happened in Shakthi
mills to make you feel safe. You are only feeling safe thinking about how Mumbai is
“safer” than the mental pictures you have of say Delhi, UP or Bihar completely
forgetting that all of these states belong to the same country as you do. Stop using
pathetic yardsticks to measure how safe you feel and you will realise you are as
vulnerable as any other woman is.

It is not about cowering in fear but if we start feeling safe just because of our ability
to look away and live within convoluted rules then where does change begin?

from:  Archana Iyer
Posted on: Aug 30, 2013 at 09:33 IST

we need to reinvent the meaning of safe if we still call it a safe city .
If we still are in denial mode then lord save us...

from:  Raghav
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 23:54 IST

I had this belief that Mumbai is safe before I visited the city for the first time in 2008, to be lost since then. At a local Railway station I had a bitter experience and we took a taxi to go back to our hotel after that incident. I sometimes used to think that it could be a rare incident but when the author says, "Every woman has had to learn to cope. Shielding your body with your elbows and your handbag as best as you can; turning around swiftly to confront the groper behind you", it leaves no doubts! I wish I knew this earlier!
With the kind of mentalities of men in our cities (also villages) no place in India is safe for women. It's only that women have probably had learnt to be safe in a few places out of their and their near & dear's experiences.

from:  Hamsa
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 23:20 IST

This is one of perhaps numerous rapes (in Mumbai) that the newspapers report everyday.
And even after all this you live in a mirage. Mumbai is not safe. If today I ask a girl out for a
movie after 9 she will probably say no eventhough we live in the 'safe city' of Mumbai. I hate
to be stereotyped but that's the way it is. If we are to change the city and our attitudes then
the first thing we must do is accept that Mumbai is unsafe.

from:  Nomi
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 22:12 IST

Whether Mumbai or Delhi or thousands of Indian villages, women are not
safe anywhere.Because we want to live in denial , we still want to be
happy in darkness with the notion 'India is a great country with oldest
civilization' but we fail to realize that the culture which does not
change with time becomes shackles.

from:  Vidhi
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 22:03 IST

Ms. Punwani is a confused author.A city is considered safe if its men and women are able to
walk the streets without fear at any point of the day, any day of the year, be it Holi or New
year' s eve.

If Mumbai is safe, why does she want constables posted in women's compartments?

Ms. Punwani should not mention safety and this young reporter's statement that she will turn
to work in the same article. So according to Ms. Punwani' s logic, if the brave lady had said
that she would not return to work, we should consider Mumbai unsafe! this is ridiculous, as it
does not reflect on Mumbai's ability to keep its people safe but rather that she is courageous
enough to not let this trauma rule her life.This courageous young press reporter is giving
hope to so many young women who have been through similar trauma.

It''s high time we stop romanticizing our cities. We are our cities. We need to change.




from:  Saritha
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 19:58 IST

This incident could happen anywhere in the world. If a person goes to unsafe places, there is a high chance that they may be attacked. Women and children are often targeted during war. Issue with us is hypocrisy, lack of justice, and the growing gap between educated and uneducated,rich and poor. Growing up in India, I was much too aware of unsafe places. Women in India should carry stuff to protect themselves and invest in self defense. There is no logical way to change half a billion men's thoughts, for that matter any bad person's evil mind.

from:  Anu
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 19:23 IST

The sad truth is that women are not safe anywhere. It doesn't matter
if its India or any other country, there is always a predator around.
Ms Punwani is correct on many counts; you have to always protect
yourself in the best way you can and pray that bad luck doesn't find
you, that's what you have to teach young women. It's futile to rely on
society or police to protect you in India.
we cannot judge mumbai as a city for the incident at shakti mills on
the same scale as the shamelessly brazen Delhi incident which happened
on the streets.

from:  ruthvika
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 18:50 IST

The press and some vested interests have changed the discourse of rape
- as a "Bombay" (or Mumbai) issue. They have hijacked the issue - the
issue is one of depravity, the fact that men who commit a crime are
not fearful of the law. This is an issue of the breakdown of the law
or a set of laws written in 1860, which has not changed with time. It
is about enforcement, the criminal-cop-politician nexus, and how as a
nation, India is going downhill. Your reader Sudha believes that
scanty clothing and Bollywood may be contributing to the culture of
rape. It may be so, but it doesn't have to be. The west is more
liberal in gender relations, but rape is taken seriously. 20 years or
more in prison is common, and there is no "up to" X years of prison
time. Some states have mandatory prison time - so the judge can't use
his discretion to reduce the sentence.

Why can't we do something like this? Is it because many among the
"Elected rulers" are criminals, and this could hurt them?

from:  Rama Goutharaju
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 16:28 IST

Yes Mumbai is still the safest city for women in India. It is still one of the safest cities for women in the world. Rapes occur in other major international cities too. There will always be men who would prey on women. Psychopaths are everywhere.

Women do have a problem in other parts of the country, particularly the North. Like another commenter mentioned, that more women are abused at home than outside. Often another woman (Mother-Sister-Daughter in Law) is a perpetrator. It is part of cultural mind set that victimizes a woman - this mind set has to change. One of the ways is to make a big deal about such instances in media - which we seem to have been doing. Cases of Rapes, Sexual Harassment, Dowry etc need to be highlighted by media continually.

At the same time we need to change ourselves and each of us should try and influence the minds within our sphere of influence.

from:  N. Mohan
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 16:27 IST

Seriously?!? Have you not listened to the song "Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, jhara hatke, jhara bachke yehai Mumbai meri jaan"...this song is not recent! It was sung in 1956! A song from film CID. Do you think the cities in India are getting safer since 1956?? Anyone claiming Mumbai as safe has not really lived in Mumbai...they are just arm-chair commentators/journalists.

from:  Ponga Pundit
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 16:12 IST

Is there any place in india where women can go without fear ?? :)

from:  Niranjana
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 15:36 IST

Even today Mumbai is the safest city on earth for women, provided you
are alert and aware. Nobody stares, nobody asks your caste or class or
religion or profession -- including the bariwalis who are a part of
the crowd -- women being as much pillars of the economy as men.
Whether they are fisherwomen, bhajiwalis, kamwali bais, sportswomen,
students or executives, their right to be in public space at night or
day is generally respected. The migration factor is bad for the good
health of the city, when it comes to men from places where women are
eyed as 'tunch maal' free-for-all! Mumbai is a mindset that stands out
wherever you go. Yes, it is finally up to the mothers to teach their
sons self-respect and dignity in relation to all women. The ghunghat
class is the bane of all India at this level!

from:  G. Srilata
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 15:33 IST

banning sex education ?
are u kidding ? Sex education is necessary at all times, what's needed
is re instilling the values and as you rightly said the definition of a
hero. The values from childhood which a child gets from mother and
father is what is important. Somewhere are roots are gone and this has
to come back.

from:  dev
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 15:03 IST

To read this Article seems its true" ....safe" but we should know that this the matter of
"Rape" what will you say about ragg' thief'oppress
& blackmailing in Mumbai would you like to say that Mumbai safe is!

from:  ASADULLAH NADWI
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 14:59 IST

Ground rules that Ms. Punwani writes about actually translate to 'living in fear' every minute. Fear of being violated by looks, stares, groping, attacks. If one has to constantly use elbows or handbags to ward off attacks on one's space, even in a crowd - that is not called a 'safe city'. One of the greatest liberating experiences for me, of living overseas as a young student/woman, was never to have to observe these 'ground rules' (i.e. fear of personal safety in a crowd). I am glad that I lived most of my youth in a foreign country; and now that I am back, older and wiser (and not a target of these looks and gropes), I appreciate that personal space so much more. And I feel bad for my country's young women, that they have to follow these 'ground rules'.

from:  lrao
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 14:39 IST

"Shielding your body with your elbows and your handbag as best as you can; turning around swiftly to confront the groper behind you; avoiding deserted roads late at night as well as roads full of drunken men (on New Year’s Eve or Holi); never travelling in the general compartment of a local train except when — and this is crucial — the ladies’ compartment is empty; and learning to ignore stares and comments, are some of the ground rules one breaks at one’s own risk. "

If Mumbai is soo safe as the author claims it to be, then why all these precautions. Safe is when a person does not have to go around shielding themselves from others. Rather than being so biased towards Mumbai, let's be honest. Many men in India need to change their attitudes, making women hide or shield themselves is not the solution.

from:  Nitya
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 13:49 IST

I agree with the author up to an extent. The part were she rightfully talks about immigrant workers get involved in crimes. Its sad but its very true because the people of Bombay have always been liberal from the last 80 to 90 years but its not the same everywhere in India. Culture shock will be there for people who come to Bombay from backward parts of the nation.

from:  prashanth
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 13:32 IST

Ms Punwani you are absolutely right Mumbai is a far better place than anywhere in the Country but in your article even though disguisingly you have agreed to the fact that the problem has been brought about by elements from outside Mumbai who have come to work here when they see women moving around so freely well this what we have been saying (by We i dont mean any political party but by those who have been born and brought up here) Well the only way apart from Punishing them is to publically display them all over the city to deny them any sort of facilities in the City

from:  N Kumar
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 13:25 IST

Going by that logic women in Delhi and many other cities also go out and work as they did before. Hence Delhi is also a safe city and So is whole India. Then why all this hue and cry?
One cannot simply quit their job and sit in home aftermath of such incidents since the job is what earns them bread and butter.
The question is not how confident or bold the women is when she walks in a group of people during day time or when she travels in the last train. As said above, there are many women even in the last train hence the confidence in women.
What attributes to the confidence of a women is when she walks alone a Km or two after she gets down from that last train without any fear. it is when her parents or family is doing its routine by being assured that their daughter will reach safely. I hardly see this happening be it Mumbai or any other city.

As rightly pointed out, the laws can do a little. it is we, the men who should respect our women in the scoiety.

from:  Chandrakant
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 11:09 IST

Very timely article. Holistic and Unputdownable. Apart from the show going on, we need to introspect on present status of societal systems we live with daily and ways to improve it more. This could only be done if we have faith in the existing structures and innovate it according to our needs !!!!

from:  Joystu Dutta
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 11:06 IST

Chennai is the safest city &TN is the safest state in the whole of
india for women. It is felt increasing immigrants from other states esp.N.indian states esp.farflung Andhra/Bihar/orissa/ Perhaps making
it unsafe.North indian cities are very fair in regard to Autofare
which is a real menace in TN.

from:  ramachandrasekaran
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 10:49 IST

Ms Punwani is so blase. And in such great denial.
Mumbai has been edging towards a social disaster for decades. Too many people
packed into little spaces, of different income levels and sophistication. Many wants
and desires all jostling for space. Commuities breaking every law, since Mumbai is
about breaking the law of residence, commerce and privacy with impunity, with the
active support of the state government and the corporation that run it.
Are we surprised? Should we isolate this from the crimes of murder and dacoity,
we will wax eloquent about tomorrow?
At peril to future action and to truth.
Mumbai, our beloved pressure cooker goes off now and then. For the rest it just
simmers and simmers while the commentators avoid looking it in the eye. For that
hurts. And makes us feel impotent.

from:  Bindu Tandon
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 09:25 IST

I have to agree to your views ma'am. Though i too was shaken and felt
a deep hurt at the ghastly Shakti Mills incident, on retrospection it
is clear that Mumbai is still the safest place for women. I have seen
off women colleagues even at 11 pm in the night in local rains and
autorickshaws and even though I may worry a little till they call and
confirm they have reached safely, in no other city, town or village
in India can i imagine this possible. As a man let me say that though
women should learn to protect themselves, the entire responsiblity
and blame of any sexual attack or harassment lies with us men. We
should protect our sisters and daughters..

from:  Samir
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 08:06 IST

Why talk about being safe outside our home, so many married women feel victimised within their homes, physically and mentally abused by their husbands and inlaws. The real evil lies with the medieval mindset of our country and astonishgly , there are women who play a significant part in harrassment of another women. These so called 'temporary' morcha's will not serve the purpose

from:  Leena James
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 07:54 IST

Absolutely correct.Mumbai is safe.

from:  shubhada
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 05:56 IST

The irony in the author's coloumn, where one hand she defends Mumbai,
and then goes about telling how women should keep themselves safe, is
just a sad reflection of India's "Chalta Hai" attitude. The author is
making light of the fact that a woman in public places, can be
surrounded by multiple predators, and no matter how smart or safe she
tries to be, she can end up being a victim to the situation, and
suffer in solitude. As long as woman are willing to endure this silent
torture in the hands of men, there will be more such incidents. Stop
accepting, and start rebelling. Let Mumbai Unite, whole of Maharastra
Unite, and whole of India Unite, to fight against these incidents, and
clean our system. One thing I would still like to add is that,
Bollywood movies, scanty clothing, bad websites, and western influence
of late night parties, is all adding fuel to are already fragile moral
fabric, and it is starting to tear apart, and I can see our Mother
India sobbing with self-pity.

from:  sudha
Posted on: Aug 29, 2013 at 04:06 IST
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