MUMBAI: The recent acid attack on a 22 year old woman at a crowded railway station, by a man who had allegedly attacked her twice before, has raised questions over police apathy in dealing with cases of harassment as much as safety. “This is the third time that she has been attacked, earlier she was attacked on the face, with a small knife.
After the first attack we moved from Malwani to Nallasopara to feel safer,” Seema Thakur, mother of the victim said. On Wednesday Railway police arrested a 25 year old man, her former land lord for throwing acid on her face. The victim, presently at Singhvi hospital has been provided police protection, however her earlier attempts to book a complaint went in vain. “I don’t know why the police did not register a case when we approached them earlier…her doctors are confident that she will recover but the family will always be scared,” the petrified mother said.
“Incident such as an acid attack does not emerge suddenly; negative feelings repressed over a long time finally result into something so hurtful. So why does the police and society refuse to act when it can be stopped, before it ruins a woman’s identity?” asked Shirin Juwaley, who survived an acid attack by her husband in 1998. While Juwaley regards Mumbai as ‘safe for women’ she adds that ‘mindsets are very unsafe’, “We are socially conditioned to accept that men can eve tease or harass women and the only time we address the issue is when something shocking happens. The police also does not feel the need to address the issue unless a women is traumatised enough to make it to the headlines,” said Juwaley who currently runs an NGO, Palash, to help women in similar situations and helps victims of disfigurement.
Expressing shock over police inaction Soniya Gill, secretary Maharashtra All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) said, “Why did the police wait to act until the woman was attacked with acid, how could the earlier attacks with blades not be registered?…Police must be asked why it did not do anything when the girl approached them on two previous occasions?” While officials at Malwani police station refused to speak on the issue, the railway police very proudly claimed that adequate measures were in place to ensure safety of women passengers, “There are extra constables in each local train compartment from 8:30 pm till 6 am, helpline numbers are written everywhere so that in case of a problem there is a quick response,” said Ankush Shinde, DCP, Railway police, western railways. “In the recent case the victim was not in the train but at the platform- a very crowded area. Even then the police quickly rushed her to the hospital and later helped in the arrest by CCTV footage,” he added.
“I see thousands of women rushing to work and back everyday, if this were not a safe city how they could be so free? There might be few stray cases but we can not question the safety of women all together,” Pramodini Balaram Matre, homeguard at the Mumbai Central railway station said rejecting the notion that there is any safety concern for women in Mumbai. However the Mumbai police cut a sorry figure in providing data for cases of attacks on women, “There are very few cases of such attacks that are actually reported because in most cases the attacker is a known person,” spokes person of Mumbai Police said.
The victims however recall each detail of the treatment given by police, “I was burned and completely disfigured but when I asked the police to file a case against my husband and his brother, I was asked to forgive, forget and reconcile,” said Sneha Jawale. Ms Jawale was harassed for dowry and in 1997 she was doused with kerosene oil and burned. “How much security can you have, if you are attacked in your house by your husband and the police refuse to register a case what can security do then? she questioned. “It was not until our divorce proceedings that the incident was recorded, before that the police simply refused to acknowledge it.” Today Sneha Jawale is a successful astrologer and writes dialogues for Marathi films and TV serials.