Sexual harassment is now a top news priority and a discussion theme in the city. It wasn’t always such a big issue; women in Mumbai learned to live with it. Rape, heinous attacks on women and brutal sexual assaults made headlines, but sexual harassment though more common and pernicious, slipped below the radar.
It doesn’t take much for women in “safe” Mumbai to unspool their stories of how unsafe they feel walking down certain streets, waiting at bus stops, travelling in trains at certain hours; stories of their first encounter with sexual harassment and their gradual negotiation around it. Anecdotal evidence and surveys tell us that the incidence of sexual harassment has increased.
Simple measures by local authorities and police can more effectively address the issue than new and more legislation. Elementary yes, but the Supreme Court affirms it. In an order last month, while allowing an appeal against the acquittal of a Tamil Nadu policeman accused of teasing a couple, the SC issued directions to curb “eve-teasing”, more correctly sexual harassment.
Some of the directions, you could say, are common sense stuff. Or small stuff, compared to the broad legislative and policy changes that protesters and activists, after the Delhi gang rape, have argued for. Working the small stuff could make public and private places safer for women, and help control heinous crimes such as rape.
“I am concerned that the debate over death penalty for rape is flattening out the issue of safety itself,” says Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women’s issues activist, “Public transport is a core part of public safety but it has been ignored, the police have to do their basics but they get away not doing them.”
Agnes’ experience has shown that all it takes to address sexual harassment – lewd remarks, suggestive gestures, stalking, molestation, groping — is for local police to round up local gangs, drug-users, and chain snatchers, detain and threaten them with serious consequences.
Using public places does not have to mean learning to negotiate around the unwanted gaze and touch, or learning to adjust to sexual harassment. Safety in public space directly co-relates to women’s access to these spaces, as recent research pointed out. Shilpa Phadke, urban researcher and author, said: “Women must have the right to access public spaces without anyone questioning or threatening their presence”.
HT did a status check on how far these directions were followed in public spaces. In some like the BEST, rules existed but had not been publicised. In others, the directions cut new ground, such as making authorities of educational institutions and theatres responsible for preventing harassment and, if found, reporting it to the police.
After protests over the Delhi gang rape, state home minister RR Patil announced measures for gender-sensitive policing and fast-tracking justice through special courts in rape cases. He may do well to concentrate on working the small stuff too.
Install CCTV cameras in public places - Supreme Court Direction
There will be a direction to state governments and union territories to install CCTVs in strategic positions which itself would be a deterrent and if detected, the offender could be caught.
STATUS CHECK : Close circuit television cameras (CCTVs) have already been installed in several localities by private organisations that have come forward and funded these projects.
However, there is no centralised surveillance system because the camera installations are not coordinated, said Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh. These cameras have helped detect crimes such as thefts and accidents. The police have been encouraging housing societies and malls in the city to install their own CCTV system to detect crimes taking place there.
The state government has an ambitious plan to set up 6,000 CCTVs across the city and also to set up a control room which will collate all CCTV images.
The estimated cost of the project is Rs500 crore. The project, which was proposed after the 26/11 terror attack 2008, is in the tendering stage. Police officials say it will help curb crimes against women in public.
- Rahul Mahajani
Authorities to take charge - Supreme Court Direction
Persons in charge of educational institutions, places of worship, cinema theatres, railway stations and bus stands have to take steps they deem fit to prevent eve-teasing within their precincts and, on a complaint being made, they must pass on the information to the nearest police station, or the women's help centre.
STATUS CHECK : Schools and colleges said they were unaware about the Supreme Court directions, but they were taking measures, nonetheless.
While some are in touch with the local police, others have been holding gender-sensitisation workshops. An association of college principals has written to the government suggesting measures, including full-time counsellors, gender-sensitisation workshops and removal of unauthorised structures near the institute, among others. At NES institutions, there are complaint boxes for students. At St Andrew’s College, Bandra, girls are taking self-defence courses. Religious places such as Siddhivinayak temple have separate queues for men and women on Tuesdays. The temple has 120 CCTV cameras.
— Bhavya Dore
Safer public transport - Supreme Court Direction
Where either passengers or persons in-charge of a public service vehicle indulge in eve-teasing, the crew shall, on a complaint made by the aggrieved person, take the vehicle to the nearest police station and give information to the police. Failure to do so should lead to cancellation of the permit to ply.
STATUS CHECK : Officials say these steps have already been taken for safety of women commuters.
Buses: Women passengers can take the bus to the nearest police station to file a complaint. The CCTV footage recorded in the bus (if any), will be used as evidence. Passengers can also complain on toll-free number 1800 227 550 or email email@example.com. For state transport buses, complain on toll-free number 1800221250.
Trains: Women can call GRP helpline number 1275 (CR) and railway police helpline number 1311 (WR). Women can also pull the chain in an emergency.
- Prajakta Chavan Rane
Passers-by must intervene - Supreme Court Direction
Responsibility is also on passers-by who should report such incidents to the nearest police station or to the women’s helpline.
STATUS CHECK : When a girl, 19, was stabbed by her ex-boyfriend on a bridge near Thane railway station on Wednesday, no bystander came forward to help her. Last month, a woman was attacked outside crowded Dadar station, but others merely watched.
Experts explained why most people choose not to act. “It is usually the fear of getting involved in legal procedures and police matters that stop people from helping,” said Sameera Khan, a sociologist.
“While the SC direction is a welcome move, it is necessary to simplify the legal process not just for the victim, but for witnesses as well. More people will then come forward to help and it will be a strong deterrent to offenders as well as a big relief for women,” she said.
- Mugdha Variyar
Helplines needed for women - Supreme Court Direction
State governments and union territories are directed to establish a women's helpline in various cities and towns, so as to curb eve-teasing within three months.
STATUS CHECK : The Mumbai police started a dedicated helpline for women (103) after an NRI woman was molested in Juhu on New Year’s Eve in 2007.
It is a 24-hour emergency helpline, initiated under the purview of the then police commissioner DN Jadhav.
Police have set up counselling centres in five places in the city to follow up on calls they get on the 103 helpline. The police are appointing more counsellors at these centres.
A police official who mans the helpline said that they receive about 80 calls every day, mostly from victims of domestic abuse.
Officials provide requisite police help, medical assis-tance and also counsellors if necessary.
Once the police arrive at the spot mentioned by the caller, they assess the situation and register a complaint accordingly.
- Rahul Mahajani
Boards against harassment - Supreme Court Direction
Suitable boards cautioning against eve-teasing should be exhibited in the precincts of educational institutions, bus stands, railway stations, cinema theatres, parties, beaches, public service vehicles, places of worship, etc.
STATUS CHECK : The police have not yet put up any boards (like those on drink-driving) cautioning against sexual harassment or other forms of violence against women anywhere in the city. During the drink-driving campaign, the traffic police had roped in corporates to put up boards including digital display boards across the city.
Police commissioner Satyapal Singh said they have put up phone numbers of policewomen from each station outside the police station, so that women who are uncomfortable approaching the police can call them. This is being implemented all over the city. Officials said they would be working on putting up boards against sexual harassment.
- Rahul Mahajani
State govts should step in - Supreme Court Direction
State governments and union territories should take effective measures by issuing suitable instructions to authorities including district collectors and the superintendent of police on effective and proper measures to curb eve-teasing.
STATUS CHECK : Instructions have been issued by the home department to all district collectors and police superintendents to ensure that special squads are formed and there are policewomen deployed at college campuses, where sexual harassment is rampant.
Action will be taken against policemen who fail to register complaints made by women. If found guilty, they will face disciplinary action.
The home minister has also asked senior cops to conduct workshops to sensitise policemen about crimes against women.
- Sayli Udas Mankikar