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Is Mumbai Still Safe For Women As It Used To Be? Numbers Say No

Data on crimes against women suggests that Mumbai is only safer than say, Delhi – and that’s a low benchmark.

Updated
Q Rant
4 min read

Video Editor: Veeru Mohan
Video Producer: Divya Talwar

Mumbai, the city of dreams, has one thing going for it which most other metropolitans don’t: it’s safe for women to be, do and wear what they want, when they want it.

However, recent statistics released by the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) and a white paper released by NGO Praja, has come to suggest that perhaps Mumbai is no longer safe for women.

It’s only safer than say, Delhi, and that’s a low benchmark to compare any city with. If you notice carefully, the splaterrings of rape reports have increased on the daily in the news, both in quantity and brutality.

But if that is too vague a metric, here are some numbers of crimes against women in Maharashtra in 2017 to prove a point.

Snapshot
  • Out of the 4,356 women who were raped, nearly 20% were from Mumbai. That’s 751 raped women, of which 284 were minors.
  • Out of the 12,238 women who were molested, nearly 18% were from Mumbai. That’s almost 2,700 women who were molested.
  • Out of 7,113 women who were reported kidnapped, around 15% were from Mumbai. To be more precise, 1,292 kidnapped women.
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To further collaborate the numbers presented by the SCRB, NGO Praja filed a series of FIRs pertaining to the state of crime in Maharashtra between 2012 and 2016, which paints a clearer picture of the deteriorating safety of women and also children in the state.

The Why of It

Everytime the topic of increase in rapes comes up, people point out how after the Nirbhaya incident of 2012, awareness has increased, both in the people and the police, so the rate of successful reporting of such crimes has gone up, not the crime itself. While it is completely factual that some victims have more confidence in the criminal justice system post-Nirbhaya, what we have to be wary about is that this assumption may hide an actual increase in the number of rapes and serious sexual assaults in the city.

When asked about the increase in crimes against women, Mumbai police’s spokesperson said: “We are doing our best to combat increasing crime in the city. Post the 2012 Delhi rape case, the police have been trained to promptly register all cases of sexual assault.”

In fact, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also said, in the last week of March after this data was released:

After the 2013 amendments to rape laws in the IPC, police have started registering rape cases more, when earlier they would register these cases as ‘sexual assault’. Hence, the increase in numbers.

But that doesn’t explain the whole picture.

The Nirbhaya incident happened seven years ago. Then, why such a steep rise in say the number of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 being raped in 2015 (180) and 2016 (331) when the Prevention of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act came into force also way back in 2012?

Besides the usual factors of the stigma of reporting rape, increasing unemployment in the state (and across the country) and all-pervasive misogyny, one crucial factor which contributes to this ever increasing rise in crimes against women is the sluggish rate of prosecution of criminal cases in the city, especially rape and sexual assault cases.

If Nirbhaya is the benchmark for all comparisons of rape incidents to come, then it tells a story by itself – that it took two years for justice to be served in that case, when it was on fast trial. In 2016, NGO Praja analysed 300 cases of reported rape in Mumbai, out of which only an abysmal 54 cases ended in a conviction. As of 2016, less than 45% of all rape cases, on average, end in a conviction.

There is a high rate of acquittal in rape cases usually because of the stigma around victims and victim shaming. 
Vaishnavi Mahurkar, NGO Praja

She continues, “This either reflects in the mentality of the police and prosecutors or ends in the victim withdrawing the case. “

This is one of the main reasons that rape continues to be perceived as a casual crime for men to satisfy their physical desires, knowing that the chances of first, the rape being reported, then the judicial system actually handing them a sentence is very slim.

Even if a handful of police officers, lawyers and judges have been moved to changed their approach to women who allege rape, there still very much exists a wider culture of victim-blaming during trials, evident from the questions often posed to victims when they go to file their FIRs: ‘What were you doing out so late’ or ‘What were you wearing?’ or even ‘Why didn’t you come forward and complain earlier?’

Just in January 2018, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court acquitted a man of a rape charge because the minor girl did not narrate her ordeal to anyone. The court termed the minor victim’s conduct as “most unnatural” because she did not make any disclosure to any person including her mother.

Furthermore, information put out by NGO Praja also reveals that it takes an average of 11.6 months to go simply from the FIR stage to having a chargesheet filed. Specifically, in the case of rape, it takes 21.3 months – that’s nearly two years – for a case to reach from filing an FIR to getting a final verdict, in the cases that actually do reach that stage.

Add to this, the unavailability of close to 70,000 judges, which increases the general pendency of all cases, and it becomes a fact known to not only women, but also to men, that those who commit violent sexual attacks on women will hardly ever be punished.

It is a comforting explanation for the sharp rise in numbers that more women are just coming forward against atrocities. Because it beggars belief that the increase – that too in the ‘safe city’ of Mumbai – could perhaps show that more women are actually undergoing the horror of rape and molestation.

But taking comfort in an optimistic assumption if it conceals a grimmer reality we need to address runs counter to solving the problem at hand.

If this is the state of the ‘safest city for women’, then it isn’t very safe at all, is it?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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