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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Mumbai : Unsafe, every step of the way

Smruti Koppikar , Hindustan Times  Mumbai, September 11, 2013
First Published: 08:28 IST(11/9/2013) | Last Updated: 08:32 IST(11/9/2013)

Sexual harassment in all its ugly forms is a “huge and explicit problem” on the city’s suburban railway network, according to a safety audit conducted by Akshara, a women’s rights group, and made exclusively available to HT.

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The extent of sexual harassment – molestation, cat-calls, inappropriate comments, touching, groping and flashing – may not be fully evident in the numbers of crimes against women registered in police records along the railway network, Mumbai’s lifeline, which carries 75 lakh commuters a day, of whom nearly 30 lakh are women.

“Police records show chain snatching, attempt to robbery, attempt to murder and so on.

Girls and women do not easily approach the police to register offences of sexual harassment that they face day in and day out.

The extent of sexual harassment is much more than what we believe,” said Nandita Shah, co-director of Akshara.

The sexual harassment at these locations was closely interlinked with inadequate lighting, non-prominent presence of police personnel, presence of “gangs of boys/ men” loitering around, infrastructure and maintenance of the property, and isolated spots, the audit recorded.

Even the character of the approach roads or access to a station made a difference to its safety, the auditors found.

“Two of the most common findings are the incidence of sexual harassment, and the lack of action and responsibility on the part of the police. The two are clearly co-related,” stated the audit report.

It calls for “strict action” to be taken to ensure that the police personnel are discharging their duties to make railway stations safer in general, and specifically so for women.

For example, on Elphinstone Road station, the frequency of police patrolling is very low, according to the audit report.

“The police present on the platform are least bothered” to ensure women’s safety, it noted. At Sion station, there are “gangs of men occupying the platform for no apparent reason,” it stated.

The safety audit was done in the months after the Delhi gangrape in December last year and ended before the gangrape of the photojournalist at Shakti Mill.

The audit used the method of a safety walk to observe and record how unsafe or not five railway stations and the Matunga Z Bridge were on various parameters, interviewed commuters at these locations, and used observational and experiential techniques to record safety levels.

Nearly 70 college students, men and women, participated in recording observations and interviewing commuters. Many of the women chronicled their own experiences of sexual harassment.

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