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Friday, November 8, 2013

Citizens share cases of sexual harassment, make city safer Crowd-Sourced Sites Identify Unsafe Spots, Alert Police

• Like many public parks in the city, Ashish Talao garden in Chembur had become a retreat for a group of miscreants, who would routinely loll there, playing cards, drinking alcohol in the evenings and passing lewd comments at women walking by. A resident of the neighbourhood, angered at seeing frequent sexual harassment of women, logged on to a crowdsourced police-public website, IndiaOye, and registered a complaint. His concern was also for the children who crossed the park to head towards Ryan International School. Soon after, the group of troublemakers was disbanded by the police. 

• A teenager logged on to Harassmap to protest against a group of hooligans between Mankhurd and Govandi. "They pass lewd comments at every girl on the station. They get down at Kurla…and always try to grope women in the crowd." 
    Slowly shrugging off their reputation for apathy, Mumbaikars are contributing towards making their city safer. Crowd-sourced public-private initiatives, which were launched just a few months ago, have been scoring small but important successes as citizens flag off unsafe zones, collegians report mischief-makers outside campuses, and working women detail the lewd remarks they encounter. 
    "There is a pervert exposing himself and masturbating at Santa Cruz," reported a young woman on one of the crowd-sourced websites. 

    While lifting the silence that has settled around sexual harassment, casual groping, stalking and verbal abuse, the initiatives are exposing the pervasiveness of the crimes. Take for in
stance, the Harassmap initiative launched about a month ago by women's resource centre Akshara. Over three Mumbaikars have been logging in every day to recount their unsettling brushes with the city. This is way more than the official statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau—which say there is on average one complaint of sexual harassment a month—and perhaps still greater than the actual magnitude of the crime. 
    "It is very important that people speak out against routine sexual harassment. We 
have had 99 persons report their experiences since September 26," said Nandita Shah of Akshara. The organization is now approaching colleges and schools to spread the word about Harassmap, which seeks to track unsafe spots in the city and incidents of violence against women. 
    Manwinder Singh of IndiaOYE, another crowdsourced initiative in the eastern suburbs that works closely with the police, has received 20 complaints since May. Fourteen of these cases have been addressed. 

    "We have been asking for a contact detail. It is possible that people feel inhibited about divulging their mobile number," said Singh, who believes that much could be achieved if ordinary citizens supplement police vigilance. 
    The additional commissioner of the eastern suburbs told his subordinate officers that, like in the Chembur garden case, the police should act suo motu on complaints of general societal interest that are submitted on IndiaOYE and not necessarily wait for a formal complaint.


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