For nearly a month, Rashmi Sethi (name changed), 23, was followed by two men on a bike from her Tilak Nagar home to her college in Chembur, in October.
Initially, Sethi ignored the duo. Soon, they began waiting around her building every morning, waiting for her to leave for college at 7.30 am.
When the two college dropouts got hold of Sethi's mobile number began calling her, she panicked. "I got my college friends to trace them and talk to them. I even got in touch with a local non-government organisation (NGO) for help, she said. "I am new to the city and still figuring out the place. This incident has left me shaken," added Sethi, who was so disturbed by the incident that she even contemplated moving to another locality.
Tilak Nagar, a predominantly residential area in the city's east region, is surrounded by slums and at night its streets are poorly lit and the railway station gets deserted. This year, six cases of molestation of women were registered in Tilak Nagar. Earlier this year, Nehru Nagar, another area in the east region, made headlines when three young girls went missing. Their bodies were later found in different parts of Nehru Nagar. Medical examination confirmed that they had been raped. The police are yet to trace the killer(s).
Till November 30, the 18 police stations in the east region had registered 175 cases of crime against women including rape, with 51 cases, molestation, with 113 and and 11 instances of eve teasing
Police and residents attribute the rising crime in the eastern region, which extends from Chunnabhati to Bhandup, to the sudden growth of slums, migrant population and rehabilitation of project affected people. "Most crimes against women in the region happen in slums or areas near slums. Usually, the offenders are known to the victim," said Sanjay Shintre, deputy commissioner of police, Zone 7. Police said that area such as Nehru Nagar, Mankhurd, Deonar, Chembur, Shivaji Nagar in the east region have worst record for crime against women.
However, local residents feel that the police are not doing enough to bring criminals to book, and are not taking cases of harassment seriously. "Chembur Camp and Nehru Nagar are home to commercial sex workers and former bar girls. Men loiter in these areas late at night. Most streets are poorly lit, making the area potentially unsafe, said Raj Kumar Sharma, a Chembur resident and co-coordinator in the organisation, Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI).
"The police do not take cases of eve teasing and assault seriously. For them, VIP security remains a priority," said Anagha Sarpotdar, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Deonar."
In an effort to curb the rising crime against women in the east region and increase awareness among residents, more than 14 not-for-profit organisations in Zone 6 (Chembur, Govandi, Nehru Nagar, Tilak Nagar, Mankhurd, Trombay, RCF and Chunnabhati) have come together to form the Forum for Women and Girls against Violent Activities. More than 65 volunteers have set up a vigilante committee to help women who have faced sexual assault or harassment register a first information report (FIR) with the police. Forum members meet police officers once a month, to review cases in the area. It also counsels family members
The forum receives about 20 complaints of eve teasing, sexual assault or rape every month.
"At times, the police do not want to register an FIR to avoid investigations, and thus women are turned away," said Sujata Lavande, member, Committee of Resource Organisation (CORO), one of the NGOs part of the forum. "Victims of sexual assault are often hesitant to talk to the police. We counsel them to report the matter at the earliest," she added.