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'Is this what policemen do?'

Last updated on: April 26, 2005 15:40 IST

These days, under the Marine Drive flyover in Mumbai, almost every vehicle from Grant Road slows down before negotiating a left turn to Marine Lines. Cars and motorcycles brake and heads turn in search of a police outpost.

The outpost was there on April 21. A mob pulled it down after word spread that a drunken police constable, Sunil More, attached to the Marine Drive police station, had allegedly raped a 16-year-old student in the outpost that Thursday evening.

Hardly a day has passed without a protest — at Marine Drive and elsewhere.

"The rapist should be hanged!" screamed one banner.

The incident has left a black mark on the Mumbai police force.

"When we go out in uniform, people scoff at us. They walk up to us, draw to their full height and abuse us without fear or apprehension. There is nothing we can do. After all, for the man on the streets, it is just the uniform. A drunken man without morals, who wore the uniform did something. All men in uniform are paying the price. The other day, we cordoned off a group of protestors. Suddenly, the crowd started chanting, 'Police hai, hai!' Officers of all ranks were there. Nobody said a word. Even they are helpless," said Bhimrao Shid, a sub-inspector at the Marine Drive police station.

Orderly to Senior Inspector Shantaram Patil said, "We can understand public anger. We know that during such times emotions can run high. What is humiliating is that our families have started treating us with contempt. Our wives and mothers ask us when we go home, 'Is this what policemen do?' One can speak sense into an adult. What do we tell our children who are mature enough to understand what More did, but are in no position to discern further?"

Assistant Commissioner of Police Mohan Rathod, under whose limits Cuffe Parade, Colaba and Marine Drive fall, has spent most of the past three days at Marine Drive. "I have not paid attention to the other two stations, apart from the rounds. I have to be here. The crowds gather in a flash. On this road, even a crowd of 50 to 60 can disrupt traffic for a long time. Somebody has to be here all the while," Rathod says.

Rathod says it beats him as to how More went to such an extent. "He has been reprimanded before. I came to the zone recently. More was pulled up for unauthorised absence. But we never had a serious problem. I cannot even think he stooped so low. I wonder what went on in his mind . If only he had spent a couple of seconds and spared a thought as to what would happen…" he says.

There are seven policewomen at the Marine Drive police station -- all constables. One of them, who did not want to be identified, said, "My daughter, who is married and has two children, asked me about the incident. Even neighbours and local people asked how I worked with a guy like More," she says.

She says More was fine at work; he never troubled women colleagues. But the shame will stick to anybody associated with the department, she adds. "This is a very difficult time for the department. It is very embarrassing."

Rathod feels there will not be long lasting damage to the police department's image. "It will not be long before the people realise it is one man's fault. Things will soon be fine."

Things will soon be fine. It is what people living in the neighbourhood also think.

South Mumbai's residents have been vocal in condemning the incident. M P Nopany, vice chairman, Megdoot Co-operative Society Building, which is close to the site of the crime, says though there is fear in the minds of women, things will soon be normal.

"The building was built in 1951. Till that Thursday, there has not been such an incident in the locality. Now some women do not step out without a male family member or friend. I feel it is because of the enormity of the incident. They will soon get over it," he says.

On Thursday evening, A B Mishra, security officer at the building, was at his desk, screening visitors. One security man, who was at the gate closest to the outpost, ran in and said, 'Lafda hai' [there is trouble].'

"I thought one of my boys got into some trouble. I ran out. There was a mob of about 50 people around the outpost. A bystander told me More had locked himself in the outpost with a girl and had not opened the door for 45 minutes. Those around the outpost heard a girl scream for help and rushed there. They tried to break open the door," he said.

The door soon gave way. "As we got a first glimpse into the outpost, More buttoned his trousers and called somebody on the mobile. I heard him say, 'There is a problem here. Send some forces.' A few policemen gathered around the outpost and tried to keep the crowd away from More, when more policemen arrived," Mishra recalls.

He says there was a fear among residents of stepping out in the dark. "Though nobody has spoken to us directly about security concerns, I heard two girls say it was very unsafe to go out after dark," he says.

Vijay Singh and Krishnakumar P in Mumbai