Vantage point

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bombay - Still Safe

Every time there is a rape in Mumbai or in Pune, the media immediately writes half a dozen articles about how the "city is not safe for women anymore". I find this connection logically very weak.

Generally how safe a city is for women is gauged by how freely can a woman move around in it. Can she walk on most of the streets alone without getting heckled and teased, or will she need a male escort. Can she use public transport by herself, without being humiliated?

In other words, imagine a street in a city. There are men driving vehicles, running shops, walking, talking, etc. A woman walks by. Do a substantial number of the men turn their attention towards her, and say or do something lewd? And how often does it happen? If a woman climbs into a crowded bus, does she get the feeling that men are bumping and grinding against her in a sexual way?

Ask any woman and she will tell you that in most cities up north, like Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Chandigarh etc, the things mentioned above happen very often. It is very rarely that a woman, even a reasonably good-looking one, can walk alone without being given the undesired attention by men.

These women will also tell you that in Mumbai and Pune (and to some extent Kolatta), this happens very very rarely. The occurence is almost a miniscule percentage. So if a woman is walking on a street in Mumbai or Pune alone, the chances of her being teased are miniscule as compared to the North.

As a result, a woman in Mumbai or Pune will be a lot more at ease while walking on the streets. She will be relaxed, more confident, and will enjoy greater freedom.

The question of rape doesn't really figure in this situation. Rapes, all said and done, like murders and theft, are perpetrated on a minority population. Whereas the humiliation I mentioned earlier is mentioned by most, if not all women who dare to walk the streets of Delhi.

It takes one guy out of millions to commit a rape, and grab headlines. But it is the consistently lewd behaviour by a large number of men that makes a city like Delhi 'unsafe' for women.

In that regard, I have it on good authority from most of the Bombay women I know, that the city is still quite safe. Constable More raping a girl has not suddenly made all Mumbai men break into wolf-whistles and fondle women in BEST buses.

Because, as I re-iterate, there is not a strong logical link between incidents of rape, and how safe the city is for a woman.