Mumbai not very long ago was supposed to be the most cosmopolitan city in the country. And its people were considered by and large law-abiding. While people in Delhi were imbued with the frontier spirit, which explained unwarranted aggression and even belligerence, Mumbai, on the other hand, was known for its civic-mindedness and peaceable citizenry. Because it was better governed till a couple of decades ago, Mumbai also enjoyed a deserved reputation for being an orderly city with a functioning civic infrastructure. All this is now in the past. Its civic infrastructure is tottering under the combined weight of increasing numbers of inhabitants and the rising corruption of the city fathers and the State-level politicians. As for the law and order, the less said the better. With the decline in standards in the general administration, even the police force has come to be infected by the virus of corruption and collusion with the crime syndicates and venal politicians. Besides, things have gone from bad to worse because ordinary citizens have not lost faith in the police and civil administration. Criminals feel that they can get away without being made to pay for their crimes. The law and order and the justice delivery system works, if at all, fitfully. That alone would explain the most audacious gangrape of a young photojournalist in an abandoned mill compound in the heart of South Mumbai last Thursday. Who could have imagined that such an evil deed can be perpetrated a couple of hundred yards away from a busy local rail station? Clearly, the underbelly of Mumbai is heavily into crime, drugs, smuggling and other such lawless acts. With rampant unemployment among the slum youths, street crime is on the rise. In this case, the five youths who waylaid the 22-year-old journalist-intern and her male colleague out on an assignment to cover the shuttered mills in the heart of the megapolis were all part of a gang of petty criminals. They reportedly haunted the abandoned mill compound to do drugs when they chanced upon the young girl. After tying up her male colleague, they took turns to rape her. Unlike the Delhi girl who was raped in a moving bus by a gang of desperadoes last December and then mangled with iron roads, fortunately the Mumbai victim was not subjected to such physical violence. She was sexually violated but spared severe physical injuries. Her male colleague escaped with minor abrasions. Nonetheless, she is traumatized and would need psychiatric treatment. Notwithstanding the predictable high-octane discussions on the television channels, there are no foolproof methods to guarantee that such heinous crimes will not take place in Mumbai, Delhi, or any other big or small town in this country. A vast majority of rapes, it is widely established, are committed by people who actually know the victims. But the police cannot be everywhere to prevent such crimes. However, the increasing incidence of such crimes underlines the fact that the fear of police is virtually non-existent. In the case of the Mumbai gangrape, the Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil has made the right noises, but after the news media takes its eye off even he would come to treat it as a routine crime.
The five demons must be brought to justice and given the maximum punishment available under the law. But as in the case of the last December rape in Delhi, there should be a constant media watch on their trial. Crime statistics prove that there has been a sharp rise in sexual crimes in Mumbai in the recent years. Quite clearly, the fear of the police no longer deters the deviant men. Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that divisive politics is inserted even in such criminal cases. Whoever blamed the gangrape in Mumbai on the north Indians did not know what he was talking about. Nor does it make sense for anyone to exploit the gruesome crime for settling political scores. Police has its limitations. The police-to-population ratio is woefully skewed, though even if we have more policemen one is not certain it will help lessen crime because of the criminal-police nexus. Eventually, proper education and economic opportunities are the best antidote against sexual violence. More than sixty years after Independence, our successive rulers have failed to universalize education and offer job opportunities to all able-bodied men and women. Till this happens, unemployed and ill-educated youths will continue to menace the society in various ways.