Indian women use mobile phones for self defense | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.06.2012
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Indian women use mobile phones for self defense

The capital of India New Delhi is the city that has the highest rates of violence against women. A new smart phone app has just come out on the market to help women protect themselves from attacks.

There is no other metropolis in the world’s largest democracy where there is more violence against women. According to police figures, every fourth rape happens in New Delhi.

"Women's safety is such a pressing issue, especially in Delhi. It's been crying out to be addressed," says Shweta Punj, one of the creators of the Fight Back app. "There has been a constant blame game. This kind of apathy and denial is frustrating and shocking. So that's why we wanted to tackle this issue in our own way. And because we believe in technology."

Shweta Punj created the app with Hindol Sengupta. They are both in their early 30s, both work as economic journalists, and both grew up in New Delhi.

A young woman talks on the phone in India

A new app helps women feel safer in Indian cities

They started out with an open Internet platform called Whypoll five years ago. It was created to promote public discussion on controversial political and social issues. By creating the Fight Back app to make everyday violence against women more visible, they are tackling an important taboo head-on.

Tracking technology

The app makes use of GPS tracking to allow women to send out a signal should harm come their way.

"Say you're going out in the evening, you turn on the app. The moment you turn it on, it starts hunting for GPS data. So no matter where you go with the app turned on, the GPS tracker will track you," Hindol Sengupta explains to DW.

"If you ever feel threatened, all you need to do is take the cursor, then press (a button). That's it. Within five seconds, an alert is sent out to five pre-fed numbers of your friends and family, their email addresses and it also updates your Facebook wall, saying so and so needs help and is exactly here."

The app has existed for slightly more than six months now but so far only a few hundred women are using it. Sengupta says their “journey” has just begun and points out that the technology is complicated and takes up a lot of resources and it takes time to make improvements.

The app, which can be downloaded on the Whypoll page, costs 100 rupees (nearly 1.50 euros) per year.

Taking the issue seriously

The makers of the app don't only want to provide women with a means of protecting themselves. They want to create more social awareness and "put pressure on cities and state governments to take this issue far more seriously."

A woman looks through a barred window

New Delhi has the highest rates of reported violence against women

“We think if they take it seriously, there will be more stringent punishment, which will deter men from behaving the way they do. Because I think there is absolutely no fear. They think they can get away with it," says Hindol Sengupta.

A new version of Fight Back that women with more simple mobile phones can also use is currently underway. In future, Sengupta and Punj hope to get the app working in India’s rural areas, where much of the country’s population still lives.

"We need to use technology to leapfrog many of our challenges and use technology to solve many of our social issues," says Sengupta.

Indian society is still very patriarchal and conservative. On a daily basis, many women are subjected to domestic abuse, sexual harassment, rape, and systematic repression. However, this abuse usually goes on behind closed doors and as many women lack the confidence to speak out, the public is not always aware of the extent of the violence.

As Punj says, the violence continues because "there is no conception of really getting justice. I think the only way to change that attitude is by instilling a little bit of fear."

Author: Sandra Petersmann / sb
Editor: Anne Thomas

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