HT reporters revisit four spots where college students, with NGO Akshara, had conducted a safety audit in 2011; but find little improvement.
Churchgate Subway: Bright lights, police patrolling at night make subway safer
The subway connecting to the Churchgate station is one of the busiest in the city, bustling with hawkers and young professionals or college students making their way out of the arterial railway station.
However, a safety audit conducted by KC College students last year found that women who used the subway faced frequent harassment and lewd comments from shopkeepers. The lighting in the passage was inadequate and anti-social elements in the subway proved to be a menace, especially at night.
A year later, an HT reporter revisited the spot and found that the situation had improved. The subway was brightly-lit with bulbs and tubelights. There was also police patrolling after 9pm.
"I have been using this subway for the last three years. The feeling of safety has increased over the last few years," said Sayli Karve, a commuter.
Nita Kulkarni, 24, who started using the subway only recently, also found it to be safe. "It is good to have bright lights in the subway. I have never faced stalking or harassment," she said.
However, a liquor store in the subway raises safety concerns for some women. "When I walk past the store, I become a little more alert because I feel a little threatened by men thronging to the shop," said Geeta Jain, 32.
Shopkeepers who manage the stalls in the subway said they make sure their presence doesn't make women uncomfortable. "I advise fellow shopkeepers not to harass women using the subway," said Aziz Shah, a vendor.
Chembur: Diamond Garden: Increased security makes walk more enjoyable
At the Diamond Garden in Chembur, women on their morning or evening walks feel safer than they did than a year ago, owing to the presence of several security guards.
When HT reported on a safety audit conducted there in December 2011 by college students, in association with the NGO Akshara, there were three security guards at the spot. Today, the number has gone up to eight.
These guards patrol the garden during its working hours - 6 am to 2pm and 4pm to 9pm. At night, when the garden is shut, three guards patrol the area.
"They do a very good job," said homemaker Deepa Iyer, 40, who goes to the garden every evening for a jog. "We no longer worry about harassment.They are always alert."
Regular visitors said they have not witnessed or heard of any incidents of harassment in the garden for the past year. "In fact, if the guards think that a group of young men are too rowdy or seem like troublemakers, they are not allowed to enter the garden. This is a sensible thing and we are glad to see them so vigilant," said Chembur resident Dr Surekha Abhayankar, 60.
However, some safety issues remain uncorrected. As was found in last year's audit, lamps on the boundary walls of the garden do not work. Though there are more lampposts inside the garden now, they still do not cover the entire area. Some parts of the garden remain unlit and shrouded in dense tree cover.
Also, there is no police patrolling the area. One of the two entrances is still kept closed for security reasons and there is no toilet or a public telephone inside the garden.
Juhu Beach: Family spot is also a pick-up point
At 7.30 pm, four prostitutes wait at the entrance to Juhu beach. Two dysfunctional lampposts lend some anonymity to the spot, barely a few metres away from the Santacruz beach police chowkie. In an hour, 10 more prostitutes join them and as early as 8.30 pm, the spot has already turned into a hot pick-up point.
"This shouldn't happen in a public space, especially one where families come with their children," said Shankar Gawde, who sells coconut water at the beach.
In the past year, the situation at the Juhu beach seems to have shown only minor improvement. When HT reported on the safety audit conducted here in December 2011, prostitution and poor lighting were some of the biggest issues. Vendors and visitors, however, said instances of sexual harassment have reduced.
Ishwar Gupta, a pani puri vendor, said harassment by beggars is rampant. Their usual targets are young couples cuddling on the beach. "They tug on their clothes and won't let go till they score at least ten rupees."
The sight of a few men drinking on the beach is also normal, according to vendors at the beach. "If caught, cops immediately throw them out," said Satyapal Tripathi, a coffee vendor. If they get too drunk and slip into a 'mischievous' mood, they pass comments if a group of women passes by. "But such instances are rare because of regular police patrolling," said a tea vendor.
At the public toilets near the beach, the entrance to the women's toilet is visible from the men's section. "I don't want men watching me as I walk in and out of a toilet," said Priya, who was visiting the beach with a friend.
Kurla Skywalk: Over-crowding breeds harassment
Amrapali Bambala, 18, has stopped wearing any jewellery when she steps out of the house. Two months ago, a man snatched the student's chain when she was walking on the crowded foot overbridge (FOB) adjacent to the Kurla railway station.
"While I am used to being pushed or touched on the over-crowded bridge, I was shocked when my chain was snatched. I couldn't even identify the thief in the crowd," said Bambala, a Khargar resident, who uses the FOB to get to the east side, from where she boards a bus to her college in Santacruz.
Safety has always been a concern on the Kurla station bridge, the FOB adjacent to it and surrounding areas. Last year, when HT reported on a safety audit conducted in the area by college students - in coordination with Akshara, a woman's resource centre - some of the issues that cropped up included overcrowding on the two bridges, which made the environment rife for incidents of harassment and theft.
Residents complain that the situation is still the same. Kurla resident Vaishali Yadav, 57, who takes a train to CST every day, said she faces trouble on the railway bridge frequently. "On several occasions, I have screamed at men trying to harass women," she said.
However, AK Singh, public relations officer, Central Railway, said the area is now safer. "We have taken steps to improve safety. We conduct regular hawker eviction drives and a railway police officer is always present at the station. We are building another FOB, which will reduce the crowd on each bridge," he said.