ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women, Safety, and the City of Mumbai

Mumbai, the city that once prided itself as being the most woman-friendly in India, has become less so. The factors that earlier contributed to making the metropolis a relatively safe place for women no longer hold sway; the economic, political, and social changes of recent years have fundamentally altered the character of the city.

Why Mumbai?” Eight years ago, while researching women’s presence in the public space in Mumbai, my colleagues and I “Were often asked with much bewilderment, “But why are you studying Bombay/Mumbai?” For Mumbai has always been recognised as that affable Indian city where women seem to have it all. Certainly when compared to other Indian metros, women in Mumbai are privileged in their access to public space. In most areas of the city, a woman hailing a cab alone at 10 pm, for example, is fairly acceptable. A woman out on a work assignment in central Mumbai would undoubtedly be considered secure. But regrettably in more recent years, this taken-for-granted safety of women in public has taken a beating. Few now care to ask us, “Why Mumbai?”1

The recent gang rape of a young photojournalist (while her male colleague was assaulted and tied up) out for a work assignment on the evening of 22 August 2013 in the abandoned Shakti Mills compound in Mahalaxmi, an area in the centre of the city, has got everyone suitably outraged, but it is unquestionably not the first violent assault of its kind. From 853 recorded incidents of crime against women in 2001 to 1,781 such cases in 2012, Mumbai’s contribution to crimes against women, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, now stands a little over 5% of the national total. When compared to Delhi (City), its favourite jousting partner, which now accounts for over 13% of total crimes against women, Mumbai may seem relatively safer. But the country’s commercial capital has recorded 649 rapes (registered under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code – IPC) and 1,652 cases of molestation (registered under Section 354 of the IPC) in the last three years. Mumbai runs neck-to-neck with Delhi in molestation cases (or assaults on women with the intent to “outrage her modesty”, as the law puts it) with a 13% rise in their number in 2012.2

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