Are phones with panic buttons and in-built GPS enough to ensure women’s safety?

7th May 2016
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Imagine a young girl waiting for the bus home after work. She boards a private bus and notices that the bus is empty except for a couple of drunk men leering at her. She quickly presses the panic button on her phone. A police patrol vehicle in the vicinity tracks her location through the phone’s GPS system and stops the bus in a matter of minutes. Due to the quick response, the girl is safe.

Such a safety system, which can be easily visualised in Europe or USA, could soon be implemented in India. In light of the highly publicised cases of rape and violence against women, like the Nirbhaya gang rape and the recent brutal murder of Jisha in Kerala, the central government has been introducing several measures towards women’s safety. Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had recently announced that all mobile phones sold in India will have to feature a panic button from January 2017, which will allow women in distress to seek help. Also, from January 2018, all mobile handsets must have an in-built GPS to identify the mobile user’s location.

While numeric keys 5 and 9 have been identified as push buttons for an emergency in feature phone handsets, smartphone manufacturers will have to provide an ’emergency’ or ‘panic’ button or a facility to send an alert by pressing the power button thrice in quick succession.

These measures have been proposed due to the view that emergency response apps can take too long to access in a hurry, and configuring one of the existing buttons on a phone for the task would be easier and more effective. The opinion is that a women in trouble may not have the time or opportunity to dial 100 from her mobile and should be able to sound an alert by the simple press of a button. A GPS-mandated phone would facilitate police receiving that alert to be able to zero in on the location of the women in distress and rush help to her as soon as possible.

Women'sSafety

Another welcome step taken by the government is the decision to have a single national emergency number – ‘112’. Similar to the ‘911’ in the US and ‘999’ in the UK, the adoption of 112 is likely to see a gradual phase-out of existing emergency numbers like 100 for police, 101 for fire services, 102 for ambulance, and 108 for disaster management, though they will continue to be in operation for at least one year.

Though these are all highly commendable initiatives, are these enough to overturn India’s track record of a highly unsafe country for women?

The following factors could make all the difference.

Improved judicial efficiency

In India, there is still a feeling among the masses that one can brazenly get away with crimes due to a lax system. If cases of violence against women and children are pursued promptly at fast-track courts and if the culprits are brought unwaveringly to justice, then the crime rate in India could reduce. Take the example of Singapore, there is this fear of the police force and judiciary within and outside the country due to strictness and high efficiency levels. Hence crime rates in Singapore are extremely low.

Unswerving police response

The response to emergency calls has to be immediate and guaranteed. For this, a well-trained police force is the only alternative. From ignoring calls to refusing to file FIRs, police apathy is also a factor in the high crime rates in the country.

Combating social apathy

Off late there is a complete lack of empathetic support and help from the crowds at public places. There have been several shocking instances where women have been molested or assaulted on the streets and though a crowd formed and stood watching, nobody stepped forward to help. Educating the public through television and social media, and carrying out campaigns that teach moral and civic responsibility could help.

Let us work towards making Tagore’s lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,” a reality in our society.

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