With more than a billion users, India is the world’s second-largest arcade for mobile phones. Now, in a country like that, it only makes sense that people use their devices to not just connect over business or a friendly chat but also for help when they most need.
Set to tap the potential of this widely-used device, India’s telecom ministry just made the big announcement on the ‘panic button’ – a mandate for all mobile devices in India starting January 2017.
The proposal was originally made last year by the minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi, stating the necessity for a physical panic button on mobile phones. So, here’s the plan. Numeric keys 5 and 9 in feature phones will be designated as panic buttons, whereas smartphone manufacturers have been asked to launch an inbuilt feature that will act as one. Come 2018, and cell phones will also feature a GPS to help track the user’s location.
Sounds good? It surely does.But the initiative also calls for a finely-detailed infrastructure, a strong emergency response system, that is well prepared to address the distress calls as they ring in. And building that will indeed take a year or so.
It is also unclear, for now, where all the emergency calls will be routed to. And whether the old mobile phones will get the new panic alarm button. Or will they turn obsolete?
A 13-year analysis of crime data reveals that on average, two rapes happen in India every hour, every day.Currently, women in India adopt safety measures by being extra vigilant (practically living in fear) or by carrying tools of self-defence. Pepper sprays and lipstick stun guns sold by various online marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart is what they resort to, which again do not provide a dedicated emergency help system.
The tech-savvy community, however, has fortunately been working on quite a few safety apps that people have found useful. So, while the government works its way through a well-equipped response system for the panic button to be, here are some smartphone apps you can use. They’ll help you connect with your people or the local police should you land in trouble.
bSafe - Personal Safety App by Bipper, Inc. The smartly developed app helps you establish your own social and personal safety network that could include your friends, family and even colleagues. You can:
- Use ‘I’m Here’ to inform selected people where you are at any given time.
- Ask friends to walk you home with ‘Follow Me’s’ live GPS trace.
- Notify your folks if you’re in trouble with the ‘Guardian Alert’ button. It immediately alerts them of your whereabouts (GPS), what’s happening (video) and even sets off a siren if required.
Women Fight Back (WFB by Technovation Dharavi) - This one deserves a special mention! Developed by a team of girls between the age group of 10-14 years, named ‘Girls for Change’, the app comes from the Dharavi neighborhood in Mumbai where these participants of the Technovation program 2014 belong.
Useful in various emergency situations be it sexual harassment, a road accident or a heart failure, the app promises:
- On click, connect with parent
- On click, send group SMS to 5 people
- Distress sound that raises a loud alarm and catches the attention of people around.
Women Fight Back (WFB) is a powerful personal safety application that empowers you against acts of violence, abuse, eve teasing and helps summon aid in an emergency.
TellTail (Women Safety) by DIMTS Ltd. - Made to help people while they’re travelling, the mobile app designed by DIMTS (Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System Ltd.) helps you to:
- Send SOS message to folks in three ways.
- Shake the phone by jerking it thrice to trigger the panic alarm.
- If your near and dear ones have TellTail installed, the app will raise an alarm (even if the phone is on silent mode) when the panic SMS from TellTail is received.
Safetipin - Winner of the mBillionth Award 2014 and the Avon Foundation award 2014, this innovative app is available in multiple languages. It helps you:
- Locate nearby safety services.
- Locate the nearest police station, hospital or pharmacy and get directions to reach there.
- Examine safety in a neighbourhood, report a feeling or report personal harassment and hazards.
By using your pins, the app not only works for your safety as an individual, but also helps others in keeping themselves safe. It also notifies your city officials to take appropriate action.
SAFER by Leaf Wearables - Safer is a safety device by Leaf Wearables – a multiple award winning Indian tech startup that has released a safety device for women. With a mission to make one million families safer by 2017, the company has also been working on two hardware safety devices for children and senior citizens. The wearables can even be linked to smart jewellery and wearable devices.
- The app locates users by connecting with GPS, Wi-Fi routers and cell towers falling in its vicinity,
- In the absence of an internet connection, it uses text messaging to connect.
- It also uses sound notifications as reminders and will even send a reminder through your mobile if you forget to wear the device.
So startups, students, non-profit organizations and now, even the government seems inclined to ensure that women in our country are practically safe, wherever they venture.
As Audrey D’Mello rightly says, “One can no longer look at sexual violence in isolation. It is connected to a terribly exploitative environment that takes advantage of the women and girls at every possible stage, in every facet of their lives.” With multiple entities converging their efforts in the battlefield, we hope that an environment where our women feel secure finally turns a reality.