"Fight Back" phone app to protect women in India

NEW DELHI Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:04pm IST

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Women take shelter under an umbrella during monsoon showers in New Delhi July 12, 2007.

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Women in New Delhi will soon be able to fight off potential attackers with a push of a phone button that will alert not only friends, family and police but also sound an alarm on their social networking websites.

One in every four rapes in India occurs in New Delhi, police say, with reports of women being bundled into moving cars and gang-raped before being dumped on roadsides, giving the city an unsavoury reputation as the "rape capital" of the nation. There is one rape every 18 hours, according to police.

The phone app "Fight Back" will be launched in November by a local charity and will function as an SOS alert device -- sending out a text message with a GPS location to up to five people, including police, and as a post on Facebook and Twitter.

"Safety for women has become such a huge issue here and we felt that citizens of Delhi, where possibly the problem exists the most, could use this type of technological intervention," said Hindol Sengupta, co-founder of Whypoll, which created the application.

"Women are harassed and molested everywhere on buses, at metro stations, in markets ... we believe this is Asia's first phone application aimed at making women safer."

In conservative and largely patriarchal India, women face a barrage of threats ranging from forced marriage and dowry murders to human trafficking, domestic violence, "honour killings" and abduction as well as sexual harassment and rape.

Rape cases in India increased by 760.4 percent to 21,397 cases in 2009 from 2,487 in 1971, according to latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau.

But activists say this is a gross underestimation of the actual number of crimes, with most women afraid to go to police, fearing stigma and family dishonour.

While male attitudes towards women have improved over the last two decades due to greater awareness, the dangers to women remain starkly evident -- particularly in New Delhi.

The "Fight Back" app will initially be available to download from the Whypoll website (www.whypoll.org) for a nominal fee and will be supported by a range of mobile devices such as Nokia and BlackBerry. SOS alerts will cost the same as an SMS.

Sengupta said the app, which is part of the Whypoll's "Safe in the City" campaign, will also map the SOS alerts to build an accurate database of where and what gender-related crimes occur.

"We have created a platform where women can remain anonymous yet the incident will still be recorded and reflected on a map on our website -- which will help us push for action in places where there appears to be increased risks to women," he said.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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