Students and teachers of one of Mumbai's oldest and best-known girls' schools have lived in what they call a constant fear of sex pests for the past two years.
|Queen Mary School on Lamington Road is just a short walk away from the infamous Congress House
The plight of around 1,200 girls studying at Queen Mary School at Grant Road, located less than 50 mts from the in-famous Congress House, is not hidden from the cops and the politicians, but nothing has been done to save the students from the daily harassment and vulgarity unleashed by the neighbourhood perverts.
The managing authorities of the 137-year-old school, which boasts of alumni such as Nargis Dutt, Shabana Azmi and Shobhaa De, allege that a police chowky in the vicinity has been functioning “irregularly” over the past two years despite the school's location in a “red light area”. Since 2010, the school has been appealing for greater police presence in the vicinity, while the cops say they have always ensured the students remained safe.
Congress House and the lanes nearby are home-cum-business centre to gangsters, prostitutes, bar girls and drug peddlers. Whistles, lewd remarks, and suggestive gestures have become a routine for the students and their parents, but a particularly nasty incident last year traumatised the students and shocked the management. Subsequently, the school increased the surveillance on its premises.
A senior official at the school said, “The incident happened last year, around the time the school reopened after the summer break. One of our students came in sobbing… a man in the neighbourhood had dropped his pants in front of her. The girl was traumatised, and we decided to help ourselves. Apart from strengthening the security on the premises, we now hire private security guards every time there is a school function.”
The school officials said that frequent fights among the antisocial elements at the Congress House adversely affected the girls. An official said, “There is a brothel operator, Savitri Gowda, who functions out of the Congress House. She gets arrested, comes out on bail, gets into fights, and gets arrested again... She is feared in the area, and she often conducts her business right outside the school premises, when the classes are on. We don’t know how to handle this situation.”
If teachers are worried, the parents are petrified. A south Mumbai resident who collects her 10-year-old daughter from the school after the classes recounted her ordeal: “There are no cabs in the congested area, forcing me to drive to the school in my vehicle. I never find parking space, which leaves me with no option but to park at quite a distance from the school gates. There are perverts standing near the gates, strengthened by their belief that nobody will ever confront them. It’s a humiliating experience.”
Another parent said she was traumatised when she saw a “deal” being struck while she and her daughter were heading towards their vehicle. “Filthy words, abuses, and calling women names is commonplace in the area. The prostitutes sit outside the Congress House, soliciting clients,” she said.
Mirror has copies of the two letters the school wrote to the Police Commissioner in March 2010. In both communications, the principal pleaded with the commissioner to “visit the area and see for himself” the students’ plight.
On Monday, Principal In-charge Manju Asha said, “The residents of the area are co-operative and have ensured the girls are not harassed. But there is no check on the antisocial elements from the neighbouring areas. All we are asking for is the presence of cops in the chowky. Because of the neighbourhood, we are in a scary situation and live in constant fear. Our girls’ safety is our only concern, and priority.”
Senior Inspector Ajit Surve from D B Marg Police Station., said, “We understand the school’s concerns, and have never failed them. As far as Savitri Gowda’s menace is concerned, she has been externed from the area.”