Safety applications for women - No safety in numbers
Distress call apps may be plenty, but police initiative and government support are lacking
Safety for women is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Pandey was followed by a rise in the number of safety applications, packaged as one of the top solutions to address high rates of crime.
The latest is Mehfooz, designed by two students from Matunga's Institute of Chemical Technology. While current apps require police action, a blueprint for Mehfooz incepted by Shirley Kokane and Sahil Shikalgar aims to make citizens in-charge of preventing sexual harassment instead. On why the alarm bell doesn't connect the user with the cops, Kokane says, "We have read case studies and found that the lethargic response from the police is a hurdle, defeating the purpose of a safety app. So, we decided to not rely on them directly."
Pratisaad was launched by the Maharashtra police in 2016 amid much fanfare. It was assured that the emergency icon in the app would send an alert to on-duty policemen within a radius of three-kilometres and also the senior inspector of the nearest police station. Shashank Deshpande, who developed the app from his kitty, reveals, "Last month, I pressed the SOS button from my phone to check if the police respond. To my horror, the first call that I received from a cop was 12 hours later. Ideally, the response time should be two to three minutes."
Deshpande approached the Maharashtra police in 2015. Pratisaad has two divisions under it; while the police are to download the 'PCR' version, the 'ASK' one is for citizens. Both these apps work parallelly. Deshpande adds, "Mumbai and Pune police departments need to shake off lethargy. Ever since the app came into being, only Amravati and Jalgaon police have swung into action and helped citizens. Initially, the app was downloaded 6,000 times by the cops on their phones. But today, this number has gone down to 500.
Unless they download the app, a user cannot send an alert in their particular area." Deshpande spent nearly R60 lakh to build Pratisaad only with the intention of "giving back to society". He shares, "The app could have become a huge success if the governing authorities were on their toes. Left with no option, I have now roped in CSR to incur monthly operational costs."
Shirley Kokane, Sahil Shikalgar of Mehfooz; Kishlay Raj started Chilla; Pratisaad app
Police Mitra App
Rolled out by Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis in 2016, Police Mitra app has proved successful so far only because citizens play the role of watchdogs by reporting crimes. Pravin Kalme of Earth NGO feels citizens need to enter the battlefield, considering dearth of manpower in the police department. He says, "It is a social app, aimed at promoting and implementing the concept of community policing. As soon as users record videos and upload them on the app, the department tries its best to address the issue. There is a need to boost police force numbers for the app to serve its purpose."
Eyewatch Technologies Pvt. Ltd. built Eyewatch SOS soon after it was established during the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks of 2008 that getting in touch with near and dear ones at the time of a crisis was a serious problem.
Karan Dhaul, who co-owns the firm and launched the app for Western Railway commuters at a cost of Rs 12 crore, says, "A woman can press the power button of the phone four times and choose the kind of alert that needs to be sent. Our prime focus is to get family and friends involved to tackle the threat."
Twenty-five-year-old Kishlay Raj created Chilla that can detect a woman's cry for help. The app was developed as in most cases victims may not get the time to unlock their phone, leaving little or no scope to call for help. The Patna-based professional states, "I wanted to help women tackle sexual harassment, and created the app myself. It is impossible for me to monitor all alerts, so I don't know if the police are responding to complaints." His reasoning is, screaming at a high pitch is a common reflex among distressed women.
Lack of publicity on the government's part, feel some makers, is a hindrance in pushing up the download numbers. Additionally, these apps don't allow for ads. So the profit margins remain low.
Arijit Bhattacharyya who developed the Woman's Safety 10 months ago, says though the apps make it easy for citizens to reach out and help, much like the idea behind Mehfooz, not many are aware of it. "Till date, we have 10,000 downloads on Google play store. If publicised well by the governing authorities, more people might end up using this app."
What Mumbai Police says about the apps
Brijesh Singh, special Inspector General (cyber crime), says, "There is already a robust 100 service, where the response time is less than five minutes. The police department did a survey on all safety apps recently and found that about 90 to 95 per cent of the calls are just for testing or a prank to check if the police responds."
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