The heart of Mumbai’s landscape that stretches from Sion to Byculla was once the driving force behind the city’s financial might.
Even today, its demographic profile largely comprises families of former workers of the now defunct textile mills and manufacturing units, middle class government employees and old merchant families. The fact that the city’s central region has managed to retain a static population unlike other regions such as the west and north, has contributed to the area being relatively safe for women.
Data from the Mumbai police shows that this year (till November 30) the central region recorded the second lowest number of crimes against women after south Mumbai.
Out of a total of 149 cases, of these three crimes in 2011, there were 30 rape cases, 97 molestation cases and 22 eve-teasing cases recorded. Rape cases have dropped by 50% from 2008.
According to the police and local residents, the strong community bonding in the area has played an important role in making streets and pockets relatively safer for women. “The overall social conduct of the students and residents in and around Matunga has contributed towards making the area safe for women. There has been proactive vigilance on the part of residents that makes areas such as Dadar, Matunga and Parel a lot safer for women,” said Dr Shobhana Vasudevan, principal, RA Podar College, Matunga.
Though the central region is relatively safe, not all is well in the region. Certain areas in Dadar, Sion, Wadala, Shahu Nagar and Dharavi are considered unsafe for women. Petty crimes, chain snatching, brawls between local gangs and presence of drug addicts have not been adequately addressed.
Ishita Puri, 23, a creative producer with Colosceum Media and a resident of Five Gardens, Matunga, said Dadar station can be quite unsafe at night. “Passengers waiting for outstation trains at Dadar (East) can make you feel a bit insecure late in the night. I make sure I walk out of that area as fast as possible,” Ishita said.
The ‘Z’ bridge that connects Matunga central railway station to Matunga Road (West) has several men loitering around and is avoided by women at night. It’s the only way for pedestrians to cross over the tracks, so many women squirm when they have to use it alone.
Vidya Nair, 23, a law student and a resident of the Railway Colony in Sion Koliwada said she has seen drug addicts make lewd gestures at her around the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) station and on the road leading up to Antop Hill. Also, vagrants and drug addicts follow women late in the night from King’s Circle station, she added.
“A week ago, my aunt and I were returning from a parlour near my home when a drug addict came near us and pulled down his pants. He followed that act with lewd gestures and filthy abuse. The worst part is that this happened just 200 m from the police station near GTB railway station,” Nair said.
“Many garages and automobile spare parts shops are located in Sion Koliwada, which essentially is a middle class area. There are a lot of unemployed youth and drug addicts hanging around the by-lanes behind King’s Circle station, forcing women to avoid using them,” Nair added.
Vinit Agarwal, additional commissioner of police, central region said pockets in Sion, Wadala, Matunga and Shahu Nagar witness such incidents due to the extensive slum areas there.
“As we go from Parel and Dadar towards Sion, Wadala, Dharavi and Shahu Nagar the change in demography is evident. These areas are known for numerous domestic brawls, chain snatching and petty property disputes. There definitely are genuine molestation and sexual harassment cases. But, many times small disputes turn into fake molestation cases. Women are dragged in by their male relatives just to harass the other party in the dispute; these cases recur in areas like Dharavi and Shahu Nagar,” Agarwal said.
Corporator from Mahim, (G-north ward), Meena Desai said, “It’s good that police have mobile vans and beat marshals, but most of their energy is spent bothering beggars and homeless people. They should focus on busting gambling activities rampant on the streets of Mahim. Groups of men are often found playing cards and drinking in Shahu Nagar, the road from Sion hospital to Mahim is plagued by such elements.”