If you’re a single woman in Mumbai, there are small things that tell you that you need to watch out.
The watchman stares when a male friend drops you home, or ogles every time you walk past. A courier man asks for a glass of water with a leer.
For the growing number of women moving to Mumbai alone, living in rented flats and commuting at odd hours, the recent spate of rapes, robberies and assaults is feeding a growing sense that the city is not as carefree and anonymous as it used to be.
“I often need to commute late at night and I’m becoming afraid to do that,” said Akanksha Goswami, 23, executive producer with a film production company who moved to Mumbai from Jaipur in 2010 and lives in Lokhandwala with three female roommates.
“For the past eight months, I have kept pepper spray and a Swiss knife in my bag. I also make sure someone knows where I am at all times.”
In a city famed for a strong police presence that meant women could walk about freely at any time, the women are now thinking twice.
“Four years ago, when I first moved here, I wouldn’t have hesitated to walk about alone at any time of night,” said interior designer Payal Bagzai, 25, who shares a flat in Bandra with two women. “Now, my friends and I ensure that we are with other people if we are out after 11pm. And I would rather wake up at odd hours to unlock the main door and let my flat mate in than risk not putting on the chain at night.”
The sense of alienation makes women insecure too. “I live in a society of 142 flats, but I don’t know any of my neighbours because the general attitude in our housing society is one of indifference,” said Swati Vajpayee, 24, an accountancy student who moved from Lucknow to Malad (West) with her younger sister three months ago. “Even our maid would keep grilling us and spreading gossip.”
Women with regular working hours are also feeling insecure. “It’s worrying that a fixed daily routine makes it easy for someone to stalk me,” said magazine photo editor Amrita Das, 26, who moved to Mumbai from Meghalaya in 2010 and lives with a flat mate in Bandra. “I’m considering buying pepper spray.”