Oct 20: Two men stabbed to death when they protested harassment of the women in their group
Oct 12: A 22-year-old woman gangraped in a moving autorickshaw by three men
Sept 22: A 61-year-old woman murders her neighbour who had slighted her earlier
Sept 20: Senior citizen strangled by her teenage grandson and his friend while she was praying
July 2: A 16-year-old girl gangraped by "friends" after a visit to Siddhivinayak temple; rape filmed, circulated via MMS
Mumbai, given all its warts, was never known for such stuff: a group of five twentysomething friends is standing around for their post-dinner paan at a shop in suburban Amboli when one of the girls in the group is targeted with lewd remarks and deliberate physical contact. Her friends protest loudly, the offending group of four molesters retreat only to return with knives and sticks, hit and stab the men who protested even as the girls fail to reach the police emergency number for an hour, all this as a crowd stands back watching the sickening show. Two of the male victims die later.
There is then the expected eruption of outrage, social network-supported 'No Tolerance' campaigns and some high-decibel clamour for better policing. The four goons are arrested and the murder weapon is seized; the victims' families are demanding fast-track courts to bring the guilty to justice.
Week upon week now there are incidents that remind Mumbaikars that the city is not the safe metropolis it once used to be, where crime largely meant the underworld gangs, their rivalries and shootouts between them and the police. Mumbai is a different city today: women in second-class suburban railway compartments are routinely attacked by petty thieves, chain-snatchers target women in busy marketplaces, thieves make merry at jewellery stores and banks despite CCTVs. Young boys in middle and upper-middle class homes plot and kill their grandparents for cash, senior citizens are routinely killed when they resist house break-ins, often conducted in connivance with the domestic help and/or security guards. Some seven such cases have been registered in the last six weeks. Prepubescent girls in a Kurla slum were recently kidnapped and raped after which it comes about that the local police has registered no less than seven similar cases in less than two months.
The sense that Mumbai is becoming less and less safe is but natural given the daily crime compilation in the media, but alarm bells have really gone off after the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released its data for 2009-10. With 33,932 cases registered in 2010, crime in Maximum City showed an 8.5 per cent jump over the previous year; it was also the sharpest annual spike in five years and there's anxiety now that the figures for 2011 may be even worse. This puts Mumbai in second place, just behind Calcutta, among the five metros in rise in percentage of total cognisable crimes. The second place standing, as is to be expected, has come as no consolation.
Cases of 'molestation', a bad euphemism for sexual harassment and violence, registered an 18.8 per cent increase in 2010 over the previous year; with 475 cases registered, Mumbai ranked only a shade behind Delhi's 550 cases. Other notable percentage increases in the NCRB data for 2010 over 2009: kidnappings up by 30 per cent, robbery by 29.7 per cent, rioting by 28 per cent, burglary by 10.5 per cent. Most unexpectedly, burglaries in Mumbai were about four times more common than in Delhi or Bangalore. Thane district, which includes the new urbanised satellite towns of Navi Mumbai, witnessed a huge 43 per cent jump in incidents of theft and burglary. Concurrently, there have been a few polls conducted by the local media and the overwhelming assertion is that Mumbai has indeed become an unsafe metropolis.
Safe city? A constable helps out a tourist. (Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook, November 14, 2011)
As it is, the NCRB data itself does not reflect the true picture; ex-IPS officers like Y.P. Singh say the situation could be even worse as non-registration of firs is a common enough activity among the force. Criminologists and sociologists prefer to read the crime rate, or total crimes read against population numbers. Here too, Mumbai with a rate of 207.3 stands just a shade safer, or less criminalised, than Delhi (though newly booming smaller cities like Indore, Bhopal and Kochi show higher crime rates than Mumbai). Police commissioner Arup Patnaik declined to comment while his deputies say they will have to first read and evaluate the NCRB data before coming to some reaction.
Other startling finds in the ncrb data for 2010: kidnappings up by 30%, rioting by 28%, robbery by 29.7%....
It's no secret that Patnaik and his team are stretched for resources, technical and forensic back-ups, state-of-the-art equipment; equally the force has been heavily compromised by politicisation in recruitments, appointments and procurements. Besides, of course, the cop-to- citizen ratio now stands at an abominably low 17:10000. "There wasn't a time when we had sufficient resources nor will there be a time when the force has a comfortable level of resources," says ex-city commissioner M.N. Singh, "police forces in metropolitan cities are overworked and stretched but there's definitely a case to be made out now about weak policing in Mumbai." Those with a social understanding offer the explanation that Mumbai's changing character from a largely middle-class, manufacturing, pluralistic city to a services-oriented one with sharp socio-economic divisions has meant more joblessness which often translates into rising crime.
All said, there are two factors that need a closer look. One, at the middle and lower levels, the same force is expected to tackle cases like theft as well as terrorism and everything in between; Patnaik has said earlier that both cause him equal worry but these are not crimes of a similar nature or requiring similar responses. "The training, approach, mindset, preparedness, everything is different for terror crimes...merely having different departments doesn't mean the force is prepared to tackle theft and terrorism," points out Y.P. Singh. Two, the political patronage that offenders enjoy encourages a certain "climate of mocking and breaking the law" with impunity.
The NCRB data, useful as it is, is not entirely shocking; the Maharashtra government's figures in the Economic Survey earlier this year told a similar story about not just Mumbai but also other towns. This had even prompted Opposition leader Pandurang Phundkar (BJP) to declare in the state legislature that "given the 18 per cent increase in crimes across the state over five years and 30 per cent increase in crimes against women...Maharashtra was ahead of Bihar". Anyway you look at it, a rather dismal state of affairs.