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Bury the safe city myth; we don't want dead bravehearts

Safe city. It's a tired, old myth. Mumbai has to get over it.

Like all myths, it has a lulling effect. It makes you drop your guard, be complacent. You don't look behind your shoulders while walking on a lonely stretch. You carry no apprehension of the unpredictable while on a crowded station.

That's an open invitation to trouble. It takes one rude jolt to change all that.

Ask friends of Keenan Santos and Ruben Fernandes — the city bravehearts who died after being knifed by eve-teasers at Amaboli. The duo paid a heavy price for taking on a group of criminals. Heroes alright, but it does not mean much to be brave and dead. It does not leave others living happy.

 Bury the safe city myth; we dont want dead bravehearts

It's time to dump the 'safe city' myth, get out of its lulling influence, ask questions and seek solutions. Reuters

They took too many things for granted. They thought the people around would intervene. They thought the police would be around. They thought dialling 100 would bring immediate help. They probably never thought the criminals would be back in a group after being repulsed once. They never thought a minor issue would go this far.

They trusted the city too much. That was their big fault. Given another chance, they would do things differently. But there are no second takes in real life.

It's time to dump the myth, get out of its lulling influence, ask questions and seek solutions. Otherwise, nothing would change. The city would continue sleep-walking through one unfortunate incident to another. There would be another Amboli somewhere else. Then we would find it difficult to forgive ourselves.

Safe city? Which part of the city is safe?

The locals — the lifeline of the city? The stations? The roads? The taxis?

Watch the kids and teenagers crowding the women's compartments in the afternoon hours and prancing and jumping around, running in out of the bogey at stations, and treat with disrespect the admonishment of the passengers. Anybody could get in and get out. And there's never a policeman in sight. If there are not many criminal cases on the trains, it has to be a big stroke of luck.

Ask your lady colleagues. They would have too many bitter experiences to narrate around the stations and the access roads to them. For some, the travel to the train is a daily torture. There are too many people ogling at them, making nasty comments and trying to touch. And people keep saying Delhi was the worst city for women!

It was not always like this. Things are getting worse. Why?

We have the same bouquet of answers — migrants with no sense of responsibility to the city, poor policing, political patronage to criminals, the city's proclivity to forget bad memories and and forge ahead and the lack of sensitivity among people towards others. Given to ambition and speed, the city is not programmed to sit back and introspect.

It has little to do with policing. Police never stop crime, people do. It's about the culture of the city, its social mindset. Mumbai's cosmopolitan culture has been its biggest bulwark against criminal behaviour. It demands respect for women and general safety of life and property. It is changing in inexplicable ways over the last few years.

The culture is not lost entirely. Women can still move around in the night without an escort and men don't have to look over their shoulders anticipating ambush. Men can still leave their wives and kids at home while they slog it out in far-off places. Women are not dragged into moving cars and raped here like in Delhi. But the city has to be careful.

It has to pause and ponder and seek answers. Supermen and heroes happen in movies. In real life bravehearts fight and die. They are courageous people but an exception to the rule. The city cannot expect to have a population of superheroes. It should get real and not let the sacrifice of Keenan Santos and Ruben Fernandes go waste in Facebook campaigns, TV shows and candle light marches.

It has to deconstruct the entire episode to find where things went wrong and take steps to ensure nothing like that repeats again. It has to make institutions that are supposed to ensure safety to people work. It has to revive that old culture which worked so well for everybody in a busy city.

But before all that, it has to dump the 'safe city' myth.

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Updated Date: Nov 09, 2011 13:33:43 IST