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Smartphones being tested as means to cut down on attacks on women

Ritu Bharadwaj, a business-management student at the University of Delhi, volunteered to test a smartphone application that enables women to alert friends or family should they feel at risk of attack.

NEW DELHI // Ritu Bharadwaj fears being assaulted by men when she returns home at night from university.

The 27-year-old lives in New Delhi, which has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country.

She often hears the lewd comments that women in the city have come to expect from men. At times men have followed or spat at her.

"After 9.30 at night, it is dangerous to travel alone," she said. "Anyone can snatch my bag or pull my shirt. Such things happen all the time. It is a way of life here."

In 2010 there were 489 reported cases of rape in Delhi, up by 6.5 per cent from 2009, according to police.

Ms Bharadwaj, a business-management student at the University of Delhi, hopes that should she become another of the growing list of sexual-assault or kidnapping victims in the city, her phone will save her.

She volunteered to test a smartphone application that enables women to alert friends or family should they feel at risk of attack. The application was launched on Wednesday.

Called "Fight Back," the application will, at the press of a button, send an SOS via text message and email as well as provide her location on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The recipients can track the senders location and spread the word to someone who may be at a closer location, or alert the police.

Ms Bharadwaj has included her father, brother, sister and two friends on her list. Like most women in India, she is reluctant to approach the police, fearing repercussions, such as bringing dishonour on the family.

Users can choose to include the Delhi police on their shortlist, according to Hindol Sengupta, the co-founder of WhyPoll, a non-profit organisation that created the application. But he agreed that people generally do not trust the authorities to help them.

"We realised that most people - these were women, men, families, individuals, a mix - often do not go to the police," he said.

The new mobile application, Mr Sengupta said, was designed for women who were at the most risk of assault. "College students or outsourcing workers would need and use the app ... they tend to have more exposure to harassment," he said.

A subscription to the Fight Back application costs 100 rupees (Dh6.97) a year.

It is available only in English and in Delhi. Whypoll plans to introduce it to nine more cities by the end of 2012.

It works on more than a hundred models of Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Blackberry phones. The application does not yet work on iPhones.

A survey conducted in 2010 by the Delhi government showed that 80 per cent of women in Delhi feared for their safety and 68 per cent dealt with harassment either by confronting their attacker or seeking help from family and friends, said the report.

Meanwhile, 45 per cent said they avoided stepping out alone after dark and 65 per cent said they feared taking public transport. The highest levels of harassment were experienced on public transport, buses and on the side of the road.

 

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae