The gang-rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai on Thursday elicited predictable reactions: the city police was in haste to demonstrate that they mean business; RR Patil, the state home minister, made the right noises; protesters demanded better security for women and the Mumbaiites lamented the city’s rising crime graph. Inevitably, the discussion entered another familiar territory: whether the country’s financial capital continues to be a safe city for women like before. It would be erroneous to think that Mumbai can remain an island of safety for women when things are just the opposite in other parts of the country.
In the eight months between the Delhi gang-rape of December 16, 2012, and the one in Mumbai on Thursday, India has passed a tough law — The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 — on the issue. But the Mumbai gang rape proves that a law, no matter how tough, will never be enough to stop criminals. While there is definitely a case for better policing, the truth is that it is nearly impossible to guard every street and deserted areas in cities. Mumbai has an abysmally poor police-to-population ratio when compared to other cities in the country and the world. Even if the force’s numbers are augmented, would it be ever possible to have one constable per citizen? Or is this how we want Mumbai or for that matter any other city of India to be? In any case, as reports show, women are not even safe in their own homes. According to the National Crime Record Bureau’s report ‘Crime in India-2012’, out of 24,923 rape cases registered last year, in 24,470 cases, the accused were either relatives or acquaintances of the victims. This means out of 100 cases of rape, 98 were committed by relatives or persons known to the victims.
Mumbai has recorded 122% rise in cases of crimes against women in the first five months of 2013 as compared to the corresponding period in 2012. The number of reported cases of rape rose by 148% with 171 complaints till May as against 69 in the corresponding period in 2012. A fraction of the increase can be traced back to improved reporting after the Delhi gang rape case but it also points to a disturbing trend: criminals are not afraid of the law and there is a climate of insecurity in the city. Like in Mumbai, in Maharashtra too there was a huge rise in sexual harassment cases, from 1,071 in 2011 to 1,294 in 2012. This 21% increase contrasted with the 9.2% drop there was in 2011. There were also 8.1% more rapes and 3.6% more sexual assaults in 2012 in the state. It’s also time for politicians to rise above the game of accusations and counter-accusations to score brownie points. The Mumbai gang rape once again proves that along with better policing, the country has to work towards gender sensitisation.