A young photojournalist working on an assignment in Mumbai was gang raped Thursday evening as her male colleague was tied up and beaten, according to local police. The case produced shock and outrage resembling the national outcry India experienced after the gang rape and subsequent death of a young physiotherapist on a Delhi bus last December.
The photojournalist was working on an assignment to photograph the crumbling residential buildings of former textile mill workers for a Mumbai-based English-language magazine.
The attack took place in Lower Parel, a onetime textile manufacturing neighborhood of south Mumbai that has transformed over the last decade. The area is now home to upscale malls, luxury condominiums, and stylish restaurants that offer a staggering juxtaposition to the derelict mills and extensive slums that continue to exist.
"Mumbai's famous textile mill area was once one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, with men and women working together," said Kavita Krishnan, a women's activist. "It's sad that this has happened now."
Police arrested five men in connection with the gang rape.
"The woman, who is around 22 years old, had gone inside the Shakti Mills compound at about 6pm along with a young man who was carrying the cameras," said Mumbai commissioner Satya Pal Singh. "Five men who were inside the derelict textile mill first accused the woman's companion of being wanted for a murder, tied him up with a belt, then took the woman aside and took turns raping her."
Singh refused to give any details about those apprehended, citing the sensitive nature of the case.
The photojournalist was taken to the Jaslok hospital after the attack, where doctors said she is in stable condition.
After last year's gang rape in Delhi, Mumbai was considered a city where women could feel safe on the streets. However, in recent years, the emphasis has shifted from protecting women to restricting their freedom, according to Krishnan. For example, Maharashtra state's home minister, RR Patil, has concentrated on shutting down bars where women dance on stage.
And attacks against women continue to occur. A month ago, a woman was attacked with acid in a suburb. Last Sunday, an American woman was attacked and robbed on a train in the city's business district.
Indian law was amended after the Delhi gang rape, making it harder for rapists to get off without severe punishment. The government passed a statute increasing prison terms for rape and making voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks, and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law. After Thursday's outrage in Mumbai, harsher laws are once again being demanded.
"Mumbai will feel safe for women again only if police focus on protecting us, not restricting us," Krishnan said.