Danger lurks on city's streets | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Danger lurks on city's streets

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. Mugdha Variyar and Deeksha Gautam report.

mumbai Updated: Dec 17, 2012 01:19 IST

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 Temasfieldt, 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.

Harassed in public
18-yr-old was told 'we have eyes, we will look'

Shurbhi Sharma, 18, was never comfortable walking on the road outside her Jogeshwari residence. "The auto drivers sit together and harass women by staring. One day, I confronted a group of them," said Sharma. "But one of them replied saying 'Humaare paas aankh hain to hum dekhenge na' (We have eyes so we will look). Since there were many of them, I decided to leave, but later filed a complaint with the police."

The next day, the road was cleared of autorickshaws and it is now more peaceful to walk in the area, Sharma said. Streets are increasingly becoming a nuisance for women who have to deal with stares and comments as they go about their life. "We did safety audits in several areas, and realised that women don't feel safe on subways and skywalks and avoid them," said Nandita Shah from Akshara, that works for women's rights.

- Mugdha Variyar

Cops or not, women are harassed on local trains
There are two night escorts for each rake in the 24-hour ladies compartments in trains, but this hasn't stopped men from harassing women commuters. Lavina Manghnani, a law student who travels from Mahim to Churchgate daily said, "The ladies compartments in Harbour line trains are mostly empty late in the evening and often unmanned by police. I try to avoid them as much as possible."

Vaibhavi Sahre, a BMM student recalled an incident at the Thane station in March this year, "A woman tripped and fell and a man fell on her. Within a minute, 10 men fell on her and she was screaming for help. I grabbed her arm, kicked at a man and pulled her out of the heap."

- Deeksha Gautam

When recreation spots become dangerous
When DiVYa Rathod (name changed) was at Shivaji Park with a friend, a man sat down next to them, and before they realised what was happening, the man had opened the zipper of his pants and flashed them. "We were shocked and tried to ignore what was happening, but he began making vulgar noises as well. When we got up to go and get some help, he immediately zipped up and fled before we could do anything," said Rathod.

Public places such as parks and beaches that are spaces where citizens go for recreation are becoming less accessible to women due to increasing cases of harassment.

Shweta Sharma (name changed on request) and her friend, both new to the city, had envisaged a fun evening at Aksa beach. By 7.30pm, the beach was dark with hardly a few lights and most visitors had left. Moments later, Sharma saw the beach transform into a pick-up area for sex workers. "Both of us started making our way out of the beach when I saw some men following me. Soon, there were at least six men in different cars, calling out to us, mouthing vulgarities. I was terrified and somehow made it to the bus stop," says Sharma. The girls waited for a bus for almost 20 minutes and then began looking for an auto. The men followed her to the junction and only after a half-an-hour ordeal did they manage to get an auto.

"There was no security. We didn't know public place like a beach could become so lawless after dark," said Sharma.

- Mugdha Variyar and Deeksha Gautam