Mumbai is safe for women- it’s something we told ourselves, and told the rest of India with considerable pride. We said it so often that we started believing it. And then, it took the horrific gang-rape of a 23-year-old photojournalist (on Thursday, August 22) to shatter that illusion. In the city that never sleeps, where women are accustomed to coming home past midnight, this incident took place in the evening, while there was still light in the sky.
The women we spoke to- from the film industry and from other walks of life- say that this will not change their routines. But they unanimously express shock and demand stricter punishment for offenders. Here’s hoping that the powers that be are listening.
The change has to be in people’s mindset. We look at rape as a source of shame for the victim, but it has to be the rapists who must be made to feel guilty. Despite what happened in December (the Delhi rape case), we await justice for the girl. There have to be stronger deterrents. I think castration is something that will scare these beasts. I know that a man keeps staring because he inherently feels superior and more powerful. I have been subjected to lewd remarks, and my car has been followed.
Richa Chadda, actor
I am shocked to hear about this incident. I was around the same place a week ago, working at one of the studios behind Famous Studios (at Mahalaxmi). It’s sad to know how unsafe India has become for women. Initially, when I had come here (she moved here from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil), that was not the case, I didn't feel any such thing, but now, me and my friends feel uncomfortable wearing certain kinds of clothes, and visiting local markets and public places.
Izabelle Leite, Mumbai-based Brazilian model-actor
I don’t know how to react to this incident. This is so shocking. The girl wasn’t targeted in the middle of the night. There was still daylight, and she wasn't even alone. Every girl should now be extra cautious when they are out for work, or on the road.
Sonam Nair, film director (Gippi)
This is extremely scary. I feel the criminals should be hanged. Once, in Delhi, when I was working late in the night, we got chased by cars. I called up the police and entered a hotel, but it was scary. It’s sad that you should even have to even suggest precautions, and that you can’t live freely. But yes, have police numbers on speed dial and inform friends and family where you are and what you are doing.
Guneet Monga, producer
The perception of Mumbai being safe is only a perception. It is not safer than any other part of our country. It is India’s patriarchal culture that allows men to feel that they can violate women and get away with it. Though the judiciary should be given time to make a fair judgement, the procedural aspect of filing complaints should start functioning properly. Also, there is need for societal change — many do not consider women equal to men. I was once out running in Versova, and some boys passed by whistling on motorcycles.
Gul Panag, actor
A lot of men, especially uneducated ones, tend to behave strangely with women; and it does make you uncomfortable. You feel scared at such times and in such situations. But for your safety, you should work for people who are trustworthy, and who can promise you good security. However, despite taking all these precautions, I have to admit that there’s only so much you can do.
Archana Walavalkar, film stylist
As a working woman and a fellow woman photographer, I feel sickened by the incident. I feel sickened because, somehow, working in the media gives you a false sense of security. You’re an impartial, socially sanctioned observer performing a public duty, and that you can never be a target. But the truth is, as women, we are always afraid. Safety is a myth we feed ourselves so we can function every day. It’s an illusion that’s blasted away each time something horrific happens. I feel let down by the law that has allowed rape to become an everyday statistic. I demand a stronger, brutal law that castrates any convicted sex offender.
Natasha Hemrajani, photographer, former photojournalist
As a gynaecologist, I work odd hours and have been doing so for 21 years. I travel to areas across Mumbai and find the city extremely safe at even 3 or 4 in the morning. However, even then, I always tend to keep the windows of my car rolled up, and don’t stop in the middle of the road for anybody no matter what happens. I've never experienced untoward incidents, but I've had patients who have. However, I am still of the belief that the city is safer in comparison to other places.
Dr Anita Soni, gynaecologist, LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai
I commute in my car and I have to often drive back home after gigs. A lot of times, I have been followed by bikers. Most of the time, I pretend I’m on the phone, and that’s
scary because I’m driving and pretending to have a conversation with someone at the same time. What disturbs me most is that this incident occurred in the heart of the city, in a place I frequent almost every day because of a music venue nearby. But the brutal truth is that everyone will talk about this for a few days and then forget about it.
Vasuda Sharma, singer/performer
More than fear, I feel anger. In light of the Delhi rape case, no bold step has been taken that sends out a strong message. I cannot start living my life differently because of this incident. It didn’t happen at midnight, but in the evening. On trains, on railway bridges, men don’t let go of a chance to feel you up or grope you. As women, we’re aware of a man’s unabashed gaze, and the shamelessness with which a rickshaw driver looks at you in the mirror. As someone who works in the field of education, I feel we’re not
adequately addressing issues of gender and sex in schools, and which have larger implications in a society like ours.
Jennifer Thomas, teacher trainer, Muktangan
@FarOutAkhtar: Dear CM, Home min state, Police Comm & sluggish judiciary... Wish u all were everyday women so you'd truly realise the fear they must feel… There has to be harsher punishment for rape & a fixed time limit within which cases must reach a verdict in court. Wake up system!!
@sonamakapoor: Im appalled! Photojournalist gang-raped in Mumbai…
@karanjohar: Helpless to say the least...words like "devastated".."disgusted" mean nothing at a timelike this!!!! #gangerape in my city...I feel ashamed
@Varun_dvn: Just heard the news about a gangrape in Mumbai. Disgusted!!. Please publicly hang these people. Sickened with these repeated acts by cowards