“Not even offered a glass of water”: A sexual violence survivor speaks out

Women's safety and the arduous route to justice

Sexual violence is a systemic issue
Sexual violence in Mumbai is rising daily. Pic courtesy: Aasawari Kulkarni, Feminism In India

In September 2022, a lawyer, while traveling to work, was molested inside a local train. She shared her ordeal on Twitter, in a detailed thread that outlined not only the incident but her experience as she tried to report it to the police immediately after the incident. At the time of posting, police negligence towards her case pushed her to take to social media.

Earlier in 2022, police data revealed that there was a sharp rise in sexual assault cases in the city in the last five years. Crime against women rose from 1,194 (reported) cases in 2017 to 1,541 in 2019 to 1,775 in 2021. After the brutal rape of a woman in Sakinaka in 2021, a Nirbhaya squad was set up to address rising sexual violence in the city, but little is known about its impact on the ground.

Below is a first-person account of the entire experience, told to Citizen Matters anonymously. This is part one of a two-part series addressing State responses to sexual violence in Mumbai.

On September 21st, in broad daylight, I was molested inside a local train while I was on my way to work. Right after the incident, I went to the police station and decided to put my trust in the system and follow through with the due process. What followed was a traumatic experience that could only be compared to the incident itself. This is the story of police negligence and insensitivity towards a sexual violence survivor.

Only five minutes after the incident occurred, I made my way towards a smaller police station in Andheri. Immediately dismissed and told that this was not the right jurisdiction for the case to be filed, I was asked to go to the Andheri police station. Thankfully, I had the will and the ability to travel 20-25 minutes away to Andheri East. At that point, my first thought was, you are the police, and you couldn’t take down my complaint? But I moved forward and reached Andheri police station.

When I reached there, I looked visibly harrowed. My mother was on her way. I went in and the first thing I said was, “Mujhe kissi ne molest kiya hai, mujhe complain karna hai” (someone molested me, I want to file a complaint). To my shock and horror, the cop sitting there – who did not look like a junior inspector – asked me, “molestation kya hota hai?” (what is molestation?) with a smirk on his face. But I kept myself composed, and demanded to speak to a female cop.

I was not taken to a separate room for questioning. The first question asked by the female cop was, kya aap unko jaante the? woh aapke boyfriend the kya?”  (did you know him? was he your boyfriend?) I reiterated that it was a stranger on a train. After this, she went back to her superior – the cop who asked me what molestation was – and whispered something in his ear, to which he loudly exclaimed, “arrey, kaam aala!” (ugh, this is work now!) While I stood there, traumatised and tired, I was made to feel like an inconvenience. But I cooperated with their process.

I was then told to accompany two male cops to go see CCTV footage of the train compartment. As a lawyer, I know that it is my right to be accompanied by a female constable. This would, I am certain, be fundamental teaching during police training. But only when I asked for the footage did they respond. My communication with them was so casual as if they did not know the basic procedure in place. 

Many women still do not know how to report cases of violence

Since I came out with my story on Twitter, many women have reached out to me and said that they did not even know it was their right to have a female constable accompany them throughout the process. This is the job of the police, to brief survivors about the process, and their rights, and ensure that their comfort is taken into account. None of this happened.

After asking that a female constable come with me, I was taken to a room to check CCTV footage. The door was locked, so we waited to be allowed entry. I stood outside for a while, while the policemen chatted amongst themselves, without a sense of urgency towards my case. 

After finally looking at CCTV footage, I was able to point out the accused in no time. Everything was visible – he entered my train compartment, and he jumped out after molesting me. 

After identifying, the female cop present there asks me, “aapne unko maara kyun nahi? (why didn’t you hit him?)”  At this point, I wondered, I am here putting my faith in your system because as a citizen I am asked to. In response, I am told to take matters into my own hands. In fact, I have heard about other cases where women have hit back, taken matters into their own hands, and have been told by the police and the legal system to always refrain. I respected that. I respected the system and put my trust in it, and now, it is coming back and telling me that I should not.

In this entire experience, my social and economic position, as an educated lawyer, is what helped me get them to just listen to me. But my heart breaks for survivors who do not have these privileges. Who will even listen to them?

Rising cases of sexual violence, lesser sensitivity

Sexual violence in Mumbai is rising. This past month itself, a student was molested inside a convent school, a customer of Swiggy was molested by a delivery personnel, and an assistant police inspector was arrested for molestation. But these are, still, only reported cases. 

Read more: Is Mumbai really safe for its women? Data suggests otherwise

I was asked uncomfortable questions and was made to feel like it was my fault, or a coincidence, that this happened to me. I know that every police department is supposed to have a women’s cell to register such complaints. But let alone a department, no one knew what to do with me. Right in front of me, constables whispered to each other in Marathi, about me, assuming I could not understand. But I did.

When my statement was finally being registered, by female cops, one said to another, in Marathi, “let’s take her statement outside only no (in the open, with other male cops present), why do you want to take it inside? I want to sit outside.” At this point, after two hours since I entered the police station, after continuously crying, I finally interjected and demanded that my statement be taken in a private room. I responded, “aap bhi aurat hai na?” (aren’t you a woman too?) Only then was I listened to. But the female cop never spoke to me while taking my statement.

a transperson holds a sign at a protest for justice for a rape survivor
Since the rape case from Delhi in 2012, sexual violence cases have only risen in the country. Police negligence is often cited as reasons for trauma. Pic: – Ramesh Lalwani, Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

But I gave my statement, after which, my mother and I were just sitting outside for a while, with no knowledge of what was going to happen next. Only after asking was I told that they’re looking into it.

I walked into the police station around 11 am, identified the accused at 11:30, my statement was taken around 12:30, and then we were asked to wait longer. After all this, I was told that, still, the jurisdiction was wrong. After being told to go to Andheri police station, I was told I now have to go to Borivali station. By then, it had been two hours, and they were trying to get us to go to Borivali. But we asked if they could send the documents to Borivali, and they accepted, after which I realised they were supposed to. They just chose not to. 

Online presence is key to report sexual violence

The entire time I was there, I was not told about a Women’s Cell or the Nirbhaya Squad, both of which were established to exclusively handle sexual violence cases. 

Ultimately, I signed the FIR and I was assured that all the documents were going to be forwarded to the Borivali police station. In the evening, I got a call from Borivali police station asking me to go to their station and, once again, identify the accused. Despite explaining that I have done this already, they insisted, so I agreed. But at this point, I lost faith in the system and took to Twitter to narrate my ordeal. Thankfully, because of my following, my thread got immediate traction, and at night I got a call from Mumbai Police telling me that the railway police would be taking care of the situation. But all I got from the latter was a generic response to my Twitter thread, which read like an automated response to a minor inconvenience. 

How hard is it to expect decent, humane treatment when you walk into a police station traumatised? The reason I decided to was that I had faith I would be taken care of. Instead, I was humiliated, my background questioned, and even that I was molested at all was questioned.

And not once, was I even offered a glass of water. 

(As told to Saachi D’Souza)

[Update: Since the survivor tweeted her ordeal, Borivali Police Station reached out to her to expedite the case. The man in question was arrested, and the survivor received an official apology for what she went through when she tried to report the incident.]

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The News Desk at Citizen Matters puts out Press Releases, notifications and curated information useful to the urban reader.