The Mumbai Police announced their ‘new’ women’s safety cell -- the ‘Nirbhaya Squads’ in light of the rape of a 34-year-old in Sakinaka, which garnered significant media attention due to its brutal nature. The intention of the squad is to counteract the increased crimes against women in the city, for which, vigilance through patrolling, development of a criminal database, and the gathering of intelligence against wrongdoings in relevant hotspots are being prioritised. However, several women residing in the city are either unaware of the steps taken by the police or believe that fresh measures should be implemented.
“The Nirbhaya Squad is just a new name for a cell that has always existed. The Mobile 5 van, has been active for over seven to eight years,” says PSI Parvati Ghadge, who is heading the Squad in Colaba. “The only reason why crime might decrease is that the name of the squad is popular, which might incite the fear of consequences among criminals,” she added.
At the moment, the Nirbhaya Squads are working with newfound vigour, however, Ghadge believes that like with everything else in life this will also pass, more so, because this is just old wine in a new bottle. “We work with a lot of enthusiasm when something new is announced, but eventually the work reduces and the josh (enthusiasm) also dies down,” she said, talking about the frequency of patrolling.
Mumbai has seen an uphill rise in crime against women, with a 35% increase from the previous year. Up until August 2021, the reported crimes were at 3515. This is inclusive of rape, murder, kidnapping, dowry, and cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. “This calls for a more comprehensive change in the system,” says Ritika Hattangady, a former resident of Chembur, who is afraid of leaving her daughter alone in a city away from hers.
Jouella Gonsalves a 20-year-old, born and brought up in Colaba, says, “I get scared when I am out by myself in newer areas. I think if the police ensured that they patrol regions at regular intervals through the night, I would feel safer.”
“We try to focus on poorer areas,” said Senior Inspector of the Colaba Police station, Kusum Waghmare “The rate of crime is higher there and those are the areas that need the most help.”
Contradicting this statement, the women based in the parallel roads of the Cuffe Parade slums claim to have no fear “There is nothing to worry about, we’re fighters,” the daughter of a vegetable seller, Kamala said. Her mother, Savitri stated that they don’t leave their homes post 10 PM, like most other women of the area -- but it is not out of fear of their safety as they feel safest in the vicinity of their homes. Instead, it is due to the belief that women are not ideally meant to stray out of their homes at such late hours.
The squads have been instructed to create awareness in slum areas such as the one in Cuffe Parade. However, when asked about the work done by the police, the women residing in the area revealed that they were unaware of any moves made by the Mumbai Police. “They keep roaming around here, apart from that, we don’t know what they do,” said a fruit seller, Jaya, who is based in the slum.
Discourse aiming to acquaint women with the process of reporting a crime is given umpteen importance, “We have a programme called Police Didi/Dada, wherein we go to schools and teach little children the meaning of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. We are also currently holding corner meetings across the district to raise awareness about how one should report crimes,” Ghadge said.
Raising awareness of what to do once someone is a victim to a crime is not enough, Hattangady states, “The effort should be towards making a change in the mentality itself. Young boys should be taught that women are not objects.”
“I think there should be a curfew for men after a certain point at night,” a non-binary person, who requested to stay anonymous as they have not come out to the world, said, laughing. Having faced sexual harassment as a child, they remain dispirited, “In all seriousness, there’s only so much we can expect from the police in terms of avoiding crime. In the end, the problem is the patriarchal mentality, which does not seem to be on the verge of changing any time soon,” they added, woefully.