Panic Buttons, Technology, and Women in India

Can a ‘panic button’ on a phone really help deter violence in India?

Last April India’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, announced the government’s order that by 2018 all phones include a panic button and GPS. And this February, pan-India installation of panic buttons was slated to begin. Since then, a debate has raged about whether this is really a step forward to stem the tide of violence against women and girls.

There are a host of technical and access issues, of course. Most phones in India do not include GPS. Feature phones would be reconfigured to accept a single digit ‘alert’ number. Functionality is another issue: in 2016, Indian railways installed panic buttons in the ladies compartments of trains, only for it to be jammed with false prank calls.

But more importantly, do we really need yet another commercial device which serves only to delay the actual work necessary to change male behavior? Why are we dumping yet another burden on women to ensure their own safety? Inquiring minds want to know.

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