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103 – A Laudable, Yet Wasted Initiative

The latter half of the 2000s saw a rapid growth in molestation, eve-teasing, and sexual harassment of women, especially in trains or on railway platforms.

In April 2010, the Mumbai Police introduced a helpline number, ‘103’ – offering 24-hour availability and promising immediate action. While this number was for women, kids and senior citizens in distress, the main focus was to ensure women’s safety.

It has been seven years since this helpline number came into existence. Time for a reality and success check.

According to a survey conducted by a women’s NGO, ‘Akshara’, 50% of women are unaware of this facility provided by the Mumbai Police. This is a shocking figure, especially since there has been an information blitz about this initiative in the form of ads in women compartments in local trains along with announcements.

We tried contacting police officials in Bandra, Andheri and Kandivali railway stations. “We don’t get any such calls,” said Inspector Chalke from Andheri railway police station. “We get around 50 complaints a month on an average,” shared a police official from Kandivali.

To put things in perspective – about 3.5 million women travel by train every single day – that is almost a billion every month. So, 50 complaints a month is less than 0.001%.

At the same time, every woman travelling in the locals has faced some form of assault – whether it is groping, eve-teasing, petty theft, bag or chain snatching, lewd behaviour, or catcalling and lewd remarks. The figure here is a staggering 100%.

Speaking to some regular commuters is both enlightening and disturbing. “I am not aware of any such helpline number. Never ever heard of it or saw any message or advertisement,” said Priya Singh, a college student.

What’s the difference between 100 (police helpline number) and 103?” questioned Romana Khan, an air hostess.

I have never heard of any such helpline number, and I anyway don’t have faith in Mumbai Police. I can take care of myself during such situations,” said Chetana Shah, another college student.

Given the responses of the commuters, wherein they either don’t know of the existence of this helpline number or don’t trust the police, it is hardly surprising that the number of complaints received is negligible. Women’s safety is a pressing need. To offer maximum protection to women in the Mumbai city, ‘103’ needs a revamp and a fillip on an urgent basis.