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Safe haven no more?

If there is a straw poll on which Indian city is most likely to make women feel safe, chances are that Mumbai will come out tops. Make that "would have". On Monday, a young college student from Mumbai, Reuben Fernandes, died of injuries he had sustained after a mob attacked him and his friend Keenan Santos over a week ago for defending their women friends from being harassed by hooligans. Keenan had died soon after the attack.

The story of Keenan and Reuben is a strong indicator of how unsafe the streets of Mumbai have become. The citizens of this once-safe city can live in denial, but the truth is that street sexual harassment -- which was the root of the ghastly murders -- is so rampant in the city that women now have genuine concerns for their safety.

In the city that never sleeps, this is not good news. The case  should tell the law enforcement authorities this: they cannot abdicate their fundamental duty to protect citizens. One of the root causes of the rise of street crime in the city is the lack of effective beat policing. This is true not only of Mumbai, but also of Delhi, Pune and Bangalore.

The world over, in law-respecting countries, beat policing is the heart of maintaining law and order. It is how police officials pick up street level intelligence, and also prevent crimes from happening with only their presence. If a prime middle-class area like Andheri, a Mumbai suburb, does not have beat policing, what can one say of other areas?

It is important that the Mumbai Police Commissioner take cognisance of this massive loophole in law enforcement and ensure that beat policing becomes central to law enforcement in the city of Mumbai and elsewhere. If not, we may end up with more Keenans and Reubens.

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