Mumbai: Soon, a safer Shakti Mills Lane

Updated: Sep 08, 2019, 09:51 IST | Arita Sarkar

The new design of the 600-metre long and 8-metre wide road involves improving lighting in the area, better signages, and art projects

Mumbai: Soon, a safer Shakti Mills Lane
The Shakti Mills Lane. Pic/Ashish Raje

After a 22-year-old photojournalist was gang-raped at Shakti Mills in 2013, the commercial locality became famous for all the wrong reasons and, to this day, people especially women are reluctant to walk on the Shakti Mills Lane after dark. Hoping to change that perception, the civic body will make the road more pedestrian friendly by implementing a proposal that was conceptualised by two non-profit organisations and was recently approved by the Mumbai Commission for Arts, Music and Culture (MCAMC).

The idea of developing the road came from the joint collaboration of Akshara Centre, a women's right organisation, and G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture. Their aim is to give the street back to the citizens, encourage people to use the road and associate better memories with the place. The proposal was approved by the MCAMC after the presentation on August 29. Officials working with the committee said that the proposal has been discussed with the local ward officer and work on the implementation will begin after the Ganpati festival. The project is expected to take at least six months.

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If this is successful, Shakti Mills Lane will serve as a pilot and the MCAMC is likely to consider doing the same at other spaces in the city including other roads and subways that are deemed unsafe by women. Arzan Khambata, on behalf the MCAMC, lauded the simplicity of the idea and said, "The idea has been approved by the commission with a few minor changes. It is a wonderful concept and addresses a problem that can be easily tackled. Any place which is brightly lit immediately appears safer and will dissuade miscreants from hanging around." he said. Khambata added that the MCAMC welcomes similar initiatives in other parts of the city as well.

The new design of the 600-metre-long and 8-metre-wide road involves improving lighting in the area, better signages, street furniture, and art projects involving the local community among other aspects. Currently, the road is poorly lit and has vehicles that are parked in a haphazard manner. Nandita Shah, Co-Director of Akshara Centre said "We have been working on making the city inclusive and safe for women for over a decade. We want to change the way certain spaces like Shakti Mill remains shrouded in fear for most women and turn these areas into a space where we feel energised and included. This street needs to be redesigned to make it culturally and aesthetically more vibrant." She added that members of Akshara would like to take up more such spaces in the city including subways which many are afraid to use.

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Anuradha Parikh, Founder and Artistic Director of G5A said that the idea was titled 'Reclaiming Shakti' which came up after the incident occurred. "It is time to replace the memory and association of that incident. We need to reclaim the place and give it back to the city," she said.

Parikh pointed out that currently, the road is dimly lit, has been encroached upon and is a hangout for elements that unnerve the women workforce using the road. "The idea, which is supported by the Shakti Mills ALM, focusses on various aspects including creating pavements and putting up appropriate number of street lights. The signage is currently put up on the walls of Shakti Mills in an utterly haphazard manner. We will remove these, clean up the walls which are stunning and move the signages to the lamp-posts," she said.

She added that they are working with the local ALM and will request the owners of complexes in the area to replace solid walls with grills or fencing to open up the barriers. The project will include art based programs that work around themes of equity, gender, safety and more. They are also planning to have a few more vendors to encourage people to use the road.

Parikh pointed out that the larger objective of the project is to create a ripple effect and encourage citizens to take up a similar initiative in other parts of the city and work with the local ward office to successfully implement it. Around 2,000 employees work in the area around Shakti Mills and approximately 300 people pass through the Shakti Mills Lane on a daily basis.

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