Monisha Ajgaonkar, 23, was walking to an afternoon meeting in Sewri’s Chaar Rasta neighbourhood when she sexually harassed in July. Two boys on a scooter made lewd remarks aimed at the photographer. When she protested, they got off the scooter and started abusing and pushing her.
“None of the onlookers intervened even as I was being assaulted,” said Ajgaonkar. Finally, an onlooker dragged her away and let the offenders go. However, Ajgaonkar’s ordeal was far from over as the police refused to register a complaint though she had noted down the vehicle’s number. The police’s reason: there was no woman officer present at the station at that time.
“Police apathy forced me to consult a friend who sought help from a senior police official and managed to get the duo booked. I realised that no one ever comes to your aid, and women are responsible for their own safety and sanity,” she added.
Ajgaonkar’s experience is not an exception in the city where most women face physical or verbal harassment in public places on a regular basis. A HT survey conducted with NGO Akshara last year revealed that 95% women have been sexually harassed. According to a recent survey by We the People Foundation, 81% of the 1,000 women surveyed had faced some form of sexual harassment, mainly because women choose not to react to harassment.
Activists urge women to take action. “When girls first step out to negotiate the city, usually when they start college, they are often more traumatised by street harassment. As they grow older, it still upsets them but they fear that if they complain, their families will restrict their access to public spaces,” said Sameera Khan, who co-authored the book Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai streets, which looks at challenges of women in public places. The book reveals how women have to strategise in terms of attire and purpose every time they step out
Activists also pointed out the lax attitude of the police in dealing with these cases. “In most cases, the police don’t react unless is is rape or physical assault,” said Khan. “It is necessary to understand that there is a pattern to bigger crimes against women and they begin with harassment, which should hence be considered a serious issue.”
Jason Temasfiledt, founder of We the People Foundation, a group created after Amboli murders when two men were killed for protesting against their friends being sexually harassed, highlighted the need for men to fight against such crimes. “It is sad that most men don’t intervene,” he said.