On 23rd February 2017, The Hindu newspaper reported that in the Legislative Assembly, the Governor of Kerala has proposed documentation of sex offenders and comprehensive relief fund for survivors. Although Nirbhaya funds are to be used for the survivors, yet, there has been a felt need to fill the gaps through additional funding. With the help of the new initiative of the government, all the details regarding the sex offender would be made available on public domain. There will be a separate department to investigate into crimes against women and the involvement of women in the police work force would be encouraged. All measures would be taken to step it to 15 percent. The government of Kerala is also working on a Safety App for the tourists.
The Governor of Kerala has announced the aforementioned initiatives, due to the recent sexual molestation of an actress. While on her way from Thrissur to Kochi, a gang of men hijacked her car, molested her for 2 hours and took pictures of her with the intention of misusing them.
Although it is commendable that the Government has taken notice of the issue of women’s safety and preservation of her self-respect and dignity; one cannot help but wonder why it is always reactive rather than proactive. Do the institutions need enough casualties before they think an action is needed?
Another bone of contention is technological tokenism that the ‘Digital India’ seems to be afflicted with. An app is not an answer to women’s safety. A sensitized society is. Having acknowledged the initiative of creating safety apps, it is also noteworthy that the onus of safety shifts to the number of women who reportedly use apps and the number of times the apps really help. We are living in a country where food is rationed… and so is internet usage. There are times when people switch off their mobile data to economize and in instances when there is poor mobile connectivity while on a commute.
Delhi Police launched a safety app ‘Himmat’ in the National Capital Region (NCR) of India. “Any woman user can raise SOS alert by either shaking the phone or by using a button switch installed in audio jack or by using the mobile soft button in the application. Alerts then go to her family members as well as the Police Control Room (PCR). Her location, video, audio of 30 seconds are also shared with the PCR along with user’s location update every 10 seconds.” The Government report states that 18,090 people registered on the app and it had received 5,465 SOS alerts. However, it does not state how many people uninstalled the app and the number of months it took for the SOS alerts to reach the aforementioned figure of 5,465. The report states that over a period of 1 year, 66,857 users downloaded the app. This figure is miniscule considering the population of women in New Delhi and NCR. The features of the Himmat app seem more favorable to an easy investigation than to the protection of victim.
As a woman, I need to feel safe in a crowd and in an isolated area. I need to know that my protection is ensured. I don’t want to step out of the house with the feeling that if something goes wrong, there will always be an app and enough evidence to incriminate the culprits. It is as good as saying, “If I die, at least I will be cremated well.”
To conclude, I wonder how publicizing sex offenders through public domain would help. Am I supposed to memorize their names / faces and stay away from them in case I meet them in public? Am I supposed to stalk their family homes and graffiti shame on their walls? I vote for transparency, yes. But accountability and sensitization are equally important. What is the Governor of Kerala, P. Sathasivam going to do about it? Why is it that very few men talk about sensitization and revamping the cultural model of the country?