From the tip of Nariman Point to the Breach Candy stretch, a veil of security hangs over the southern parts of the city. Devika Srivastavam 26, who has worked this route daily for several years, has never felt threatened, not even late at night. "I've worked late and taken cabs late at night on my own, but I've not really had any issues," said Srivastava, an advertising professional.
The south of the city covers a spectrum of socio-economic zones - from upmarket Cuffe Parade and the VIP-heavy Malabar Hill, to Kamathiapura and relatively less well off areas such as Dongri. Of the five regions in the city, it has the best track record as far as women's safety goes - a record that it has more of less maintained in the past four years.
This year, till November 30, the south region had recorded a total of 92 crimes against women (including rape, molestation and eve teasing), compared to the west zone, which, with 258 instances recorded, was the most unsafe, the north region, with 190 crimes, and the east and central regions, with 175 and 149 crimes recorded respectively.
So what makes the region the least unsafe in the city for women? Residents and police feel it is the presence of structures of power, like the Mantralaya and police headquarters, which makes people more cautious and results in increased security. "South Mumbai is the oldest district and has been settled over a period of time, plus it has the seat of power so everyone is on their toes," said Anil Kumbhare, deputy commissioner of police, Zone 2. "Patrolling is high and there is a lot of visible policing," he added.
Since 2008, there has been an increase in sexual crimes in the south region, that is. zones one and two (see box). However, the rise hasn't been drastic.
South Mumbai is dotted with other high-profile establishments, including navy installations and VIP homes, which are heavily guarded. Five star hotels and residential areas also heavily invest in their own private security. "With so much surveillance, people are less likely to do nonsense here than in the suburbs," said Mahesh Walke, member of the Colaba Advanced Locality Management.
Adding to the security is that public spaces in south Mumbai are usually buzzing with activity and are well populated, whether it is the busy bylanes of Crawford Market or the touristy havens of Hanging Gardens and Colaba Causeway. "Public spaces here are generally well frequented," said Indrani Malkani, trustee of the V Citizens' Action Network (VCAN), who lives in Malabar Hill. "There are sporadic cases because some areas are haunted by drug addicts and can be unpredictable but, in general, safety has never been a pressing issue."
South Mumbai is also home to the Mumbai University and several colleges. Jai Hind, KC, St Xavier's, Sydenham - all these colleges are in and around the Churchgate area. Students who frequent the area, usually during the day, say they barely face any problems
Though office area around Horniman Circle and Fort get deserted at night, it doesn't pose much of a safety threat because not many people need to visit these areas at that time.
However, while major instances of crimes against women in these areas have been few and far between (see box), women who live and work in this part of the city also face general unease in overly crowded or deserted areas, and are not completely blasé about moving around late at night. Lonely railway stations and empty ladies' compartments pose as much of a problem in south Mumbai as they do elsewhere, as a student safety audit revealed (see box). "I don't like to walk around Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or outside Grant Road station at 9pm or after, the crowd isn't great," said Sanjana Gudka, 16, who commutes between her home in Sion and her college in Churchgate, everyday. Gudka was a part of the HR College Rotaract Club campaign, on standing up against eve teasing.
Some others say that the route from outside Grant Road station to the red light area of Kamathipura, is less than confidence-inspiring. "Late at night, the area is frequented by men who visit the prostitutes and that lends a sense of insecurity," said one resident. Moreover, freak instances of misbehaviour in the region have left women cautious, and they prefer not to tale chances.
"On occasions like New Year's Eve, it becomes scary because there are drunk people everywhere," said Srivastava. Her alarm bells went off in 2005 after a police constable raped a girl at a police chowky on Marine Drive. "After that I would never get out whenever a cop asked me to step out of the car," she said.