Stop debating Mumbai’s reputation and get to the real issue: Cities don’t rape women, men do

Is any woman in India safe?
Is any woman in India safe?
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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“Is Mumbai going the Delhi way?” a poll by a newspaper asks. Insensitive? Flippant? Divisive? All that and more—with absolutely no thought to nuance, opening no new discourse, asking the wrong questions, and trivializing the issue.

The posturing, the silly games of one-upmanship played across cities—mine is safer, mine is better—lull us into a false sense of security. Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez would not have been stabbed to death two years ago for standing up to hooligans who were harassing the young women they were out with, if Mumbai was particularly safe. Cities don’t rape, men do. Bombay might seem safer by default because it is so crowded that you rarely find a secluded corner to conduct a rape. In the case making headlines now, the suspects in the gang rape of a photojournalist found an empty mill and they used it. Violence comes in many forms and to the most unexpected places; last year Mumbai had the case of a Spanish tourist raped in her own bed by a thief who shimmied up through the window. And being a stranger in any part of the world, not knowing how to play by their rules, leaves you most vulnerable. That partly explains why a recent CNN report went viral as Michaela Cross, a US student at the University of Chicago, who spoke out about her sexual harassment in India.

We all have stories: I was new to Bombay and waiting to board a local train. I didn’t know where the ladies coach stopped and happened to be near the door of the general compartment when the train pulled in. The crowd pushed me in with one mind and then molested me for what felt like a lifetime. I fell out a few stations later, in tears, my clothes in tatters. A few days later, my cab was followed home from Churchgate station by another cab with a man reaching in to grab me—I made the cabbie drive straight to the police station. Some weeks later on an early morning, a pujari, mind you, a man of God, followed and propositioned me on a relatively empty stretch of road.

It wasn’t the city I was in, it wasn’t my clothes (I was in an office uniform), it wasn’t the color of my skin. It was opportunity. Given the right time and place, no woman in India is safe.