A 23-year-old software engineer went missing after arriving at Kurla railway station from Andhra Pradesh on January 5 last year. For 11 days the police had no idea of what may have happened to have Esther Anuhya.
On January 16, Anuhya’s decomposed and partially burnt body was found off a service road next to the arterial Eastern Express Highway in Bhandup. The police later learned the accused, Chandrabhan Sanap, 28, had offered Anuhya a lift, and then robbed and killed her.
The incident took place a year ago, but it is still a frightening reminder of how unsafe women are in the eastern section of Mumbai, which arguably is the most neglected among other regions.
The numbers speak for themselves: 127 rape cases were registered in 2014, against 72 in 2013; 356 cases of molestation and sexual harassment were reported in the region.
A drive down the Eastern Express Highway is enough to show the economic and social divide that has emerged in the region.
The swanky malls, multiplexes and posh residential colonies at Chembur, Ghatkopar, Vikhroli, Bhandup and Mulund show that the area has been keeping up with the fast pace of development in the city. But a stark contrast to this urbanisation is the growth of slum colonies at Mankhurd, Govandi, Shivaji Nagar and Trombay, where the poor continue to jostle for space.
The government’s decision to rehabilitate slum dwellers to this part of Mumbai has further added to the complexities the region faces.
Raj Kumar Sharma, co-ordinator of AGNI, who grew up in Chembur, says the area was like a quite village where everybody knew his or her neighbour. But things are not the same anymore. “There has been mass relocation of slum dwellers, who lost their shanties to some development projects,” said Sharma.
“The masons, carpenters, electricians who were known to people in their areas were suddenly shifted to new places where they were unable to find jobs. This resulted in unemployment, which eventually resulted in increase in crime,” he said.
Sharma points out to the economic disparity that the development has caused in the region. “For instance, single screen theatres in the region have been replaced by multiplexes. This means that people have to shell out at least Rs150 or Rs200 a person to watch a movie. Not everyone can afford this amount,” said Sharma
When aspirations increase, and they are not fulfilled, the chances of persons taking to crime to earn quick money cannot be ruled out.
“Compared to other areas, slum pockets in the east region are deprived of facilities in health care and education. Bad environment and housing has an adverse impact,” said Dr Leena Joshi, professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who has worked in the slums in the region for several years.
The community connect has changed even in slum pockets. “Earlier, residents had shared interests and hence established their colonies. Now, there is constant floating population even in the slums. With unemployment and less opportunities in these pockets, the youth are easily lured into a life of crime,” said Joshi.
According to Pramila Pawar, a women’s activist and a Bhandup resident, the police lack sensitivity in handling cases, which is a major cause for concern.
A high-ranking police officer from the region said, “There is a proposal to have one more police zone in the east region to ensure better policing. There is a need for better illumination such as increase in street lights in the region to curb street crimes.”