The decline of a mighty city

Published: 28 November, 2012 07:43 IST | Ranjona Banerji |

Mumbai is no longer the safest city in India. No arguments there

Mumbai is no longer the safest city in India. No arguments there. The latest figures rank Mumbai third as far as thefts go, after Delhi and Bangalore. A friend put up a post on Facebook about how he had a chain snatched from him on St Cyril Road, Bandra, a charming leafy lane, if you know it. A young woman got kidnapped and assaulted by autorickshaw drivers from the Kurla Terminus and escaped without further injury because she jumped out of the vehicle.

Human interaction runs on trust and Mumbai is heading towards that Delhi equation where you’re always alert and never feel safe. In today’s Mumbai you have to be careful about everyone from your electricians and plumbers to your security guards. Couriers became suspect a little before the rest. There was a time when you could take a taxi home from work at 2 am without any problems. Now you cannot take a rickshaw from a railway station at 4 am.

Once upon a time: Mumbai had a formidable police force, but things have undergone a sea of change

I was sitting in a taxi in a traffic jam under the flyover at Mahim Causeway when a hand snaked in the window, pulled the chain off my neck and vanished before I could even react. That was about five years ago and the very sympathetic police inspector at Bandra police station was as shocked as I was. Since then, “chain-snatching” has become rampant and the Bandra to Andheri area by far the worst. My only consolation was the chain wasn’t gold so whoever took it would have felt a bit cheated. But that’s hardly the point. Mumbai, even its most diehard fans must admit, is no longer what it was. And we haven’t even discussed rape and murder yet.

The National Crime Record Bureau’s report comes just after we’ve gone through the motions of another anniversary of the November 26 terror attacks. The “joy” at the execution of Ajmal Qasab has to be muted considerably by the dismal reports of how almost none of the security steps promised are in place yet. To wit: bullet-proof jackets, boats for the coast guard, CCTV cameras, weaponry, accommodation for commandos and general training are all in some halfway or undone state. Perhaps no terrorists will ever arrive again on a boat and sneak in from Budhwar Park. Of course, of they did… would we be any better off today than we were in 2008?

The charming “chalta hai” attitude with which we overcome calamity in India has taken over our fear of terror attacks as well. The only consolation this year is that we hardly had any bogus outpourings about the resilience and spirit of Mumbai. Indeed, the “celebrations” over Qasab’s hanging might well represent the desperate hysteria of a city looking for some sense in the sea of misery that surrounds it?

Sounds extreme? Some tell us that the increased crime in Mumbai is to do with aspirations and “lifestyle disparity”. Which however always existed in Mumbai. What has happened that made crime the option to hard work in this city of dreams, where the streets were once paved with gold, hard work and ambition? Whenever our mantra became taking the easy way out is when Mumbai lost its inner spirit.

At the end of all this however lies that one factor that once made Mumbai different and now no longer exists: Mumbai’s formidable police force. I see some of them on TV and in newspapers, men who degraded the force and now give the city lectures. Men who sacrificed their professionalism at the altar of political genuflection. Men who demoralised the lower orders while they made sure that they themselves were unaffected. Mumbai’s once all-powerful underworld could not damage the police force the way political interference and greed have done.

And so, a mighty metropolis has been brought to its knees.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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