The government has initiated a pilot project under the Nirbhaya Fund, largely set up to equip women and their modes of travel with tracking devices. Activists, though, say schemes under the fund aren’t well thought out, adding at best, these could only protect a select few. The Rs 1,000-crore fund has at least two projects under which organisations – the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Thiruvananthapuram – are working on personal safety devices for women.
CDAC is set to begin a pilot by equipping the Jaipur police with back-end technology to locate women sending out distress calls. About 70 personal safety devices developed by CDAC would be used in the pilot, CDAC and Jaipur police said. If successful, the project, under two ministries, will be extended to other police forces.
IIT-Delhi declined to provide the details of its project, saying it was still in its infancy.
While technology experts say Nirbhaya Fund projects aren’t innovative enough, those working for the cause of women’s safety say these are unlikely to make even a slight difference in terms of preventing violence or bringing relief to rape and assault victims.
Many say devices such as smartphones can play a major role in women’s safety. “Even a feature phone has a unique IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, which can help police track down a victim if a call has gone through. In fact, service providers can locate a caller based on proximity to a tower,” said the founder of a technology company. The problem, activists say, with making technology the backbone of the entire women’s safety net, is that it touches a select few. “How many women carry smartphones?” asks Kavita Krishnan, who has campaigned for justice for victims of sexual assault and police torture, even in remote tribal areas.
Rape crises centres
“We have asked the government to use the fund to come up with rape crises centres, a one-stop place where victims can get immediate medical attention and counselling, where an FIR (first information report) is registered right there and then and legal advice is given,” said Krishnan, whose All India Progressive Women’s Association petitioned the government and media to have a say in the spending of the fund, though without success.
A big-ticket proposal, again based on technology and tracking, is to equip public transport in 32 cities with global positioning devices.
Bus owners in Delhi say they already have such a system in place. On Friday, the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transport System, which manages the government-private partnership in public bus transport in Delhi, said it had introduced a mobile application that allowed users in every vehicle to be tracked using the global positioning system.