Panic Button Omen For Mobile users Fail Another Trial Deadline


New Delhi:The Central Government way back on 22nd April, 2016, had announced that all mobile phones manufactured in the country starting from January 1, 2017, must come equipped with a “Panic Button” for the safety of women.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development observed that in order to provide safety to women in distress situation, it is important to enable them to send out distress signal to a family member or the police authorities so that they can be rescued.

A woman in distress does not have more than a second or two to send out a distress message in the event of a physical/sexual assault. Hence after due deliberation, it was agreed to have a panic button installed in all the mobile phones being sold in the country.

Accordingly from the 1st of Jan 2017, all feature phones were to have the facility of panic button configured to the numeric key 5 or 9 and all smart phones will have the panic button configured to three times short pressing of the on-off button.

Hurdles for even trial runs

This year Maneka Gandhi, the union minister for women and child development, on the 2nd of Jan said that, a pilot project to test a panic button feature on mobile phones would be launched in Uttar Pradesh on Jan 26.

Once the designated key on basic phones or via an app on smartphones is pressed, calls will be placed to emergency number 112 and SMSes will be sent out to police authorities in the neighbourhood.

“If it works in UP, it can work anywhere,” Gandhi said, referring to the state’s notoriety for having the highest rate of crimes against women in the country.

However this trial has been delayed indefinitelyas on the 5th of Februarydue to the lack of GPS facility in feature phones which compromises the effectiveness of the programme according to Government sources.

"The Department of Telecom has said that enabling GPS location is a technological challenge on feature phones," an official of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) said on condition of anonymity.

The WCD Ministry secretary, R K Shrivastava, is likely to meet Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha to resolve the problem and ensure a smooth roll-out of the panic button.

Past trials

In Delhi, one of the world’s most unsafe cities for women, havoc was wreaked during a one-day trial in 2017. Delhi residents themselves decided to give the panic button a trial run, sparking chaos among authorities.

“The lines got immediately jammed because there were so many people making prank calls,” Gandhi said. “(The) police then just completely backed off and this led us in delaying the project for over a year.”

In May 2016, Indian Railways installed panic buttons in the ladies’ compartments on a Mumbai local train. Despite cautioning commuters against their misuse, 1,000 false alarms were sounded in a month alone, officials said.

In another case, within just the first hour of its launch in early 2015, Himmat, a free SOS-alert app launched by the Delhi Police in January 2015, sent out 3,000 alerts, of which only 45 were genuine.

Additional hurdles for women using mobile phones

In India, women—the target demographic for panic button usage—are 36% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, according to GSMA, a worldwide mobile operators network. In the hinterlands, this disparity is even wider with only 12% of women using a phone.

This is especially worrisome since between Jan. 01, 1984 and Dec. 31, 2009, almost 80% of rapes were committed in rural areas, according to MrinalSatish, a professor of law at Delhi’s National Law University.

Besides, experts say, reaching out for a phone to press the panic button is not an instinctive reaction for a person in distress. In times of crisis, the tested methods of shouting for help or calling a trusted person kick in.

“There are very few of us who would reach for a specific device or band. For that to function, we would need to specifically train women,” says Amitabh Kumar, the head of media and communications at the Centre for Social Research (CSR).

Also, the accused in over 80% of rape cases are persons known to the victim. It is debatable whether panic-buttons on mobiles or any other form of technology would help when rapes occur at home or in situations where the accused is an acquaintance.

Technology and social change need to take place simultaneously

While technology can help, what’s needed more is a better legal support system and improved cultural attitudes. So far, India has made little headway in either aspect because despite enacting tougher sentences for rapists and setting up “fast-track” courts, ill-equipped police officials, victim-blaming doctors, and a dearth of legal assistance run rampant.

While several middle class and upper-middle class women can afford to buy the more sophisticated safety gadgets, or download such apps, a majority of women in India, especially in tier-2 or tier 3 towns or rural areas, can’t afford the same.

Also, most women who own mobile phones are also capable of downloading and using the panic system apps which are available in plenty on the Google Play Store. Even commuting apps like Ola and Uber have a panic system in place already.

The need of the hour is a unified helpline, one that actually results in quick action and response from the authorities concerned otherwise a panic button will make no difference.



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