Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The new technology aims to make it easier for women to report incidents of sexual harassment and violence.
This week, the Indian government announced a proposal to create special police units to look into crimes against women. It's the latest effort to counter India's "rape crisis," which has become more visible in the last couple of years. Protesters have called for legal reform, politicians have made impassioned speeches, and pundits have suggested potential solutions.
Now, the city of Bhubaneswar, Odisha, is testing a new fix: a touch-screen kiosk, housed in public ATM vestibules, on which women can register sex crimes.
"People feel intimidated to go to a police station—that's the crux of the whole issue," says Joydeep Nayak, the Odisha policeman who came up with the idea. The Indian police's lack of empathy for sexual assault victims is well-documented. Nayak hopes iClick—as he calls the kiosk—will prevent police apathy from being a deterrent to women who want to speak out.
India's Home Minister recently examined the iClick prototype, and Nayak says the government plans to roll it out nationally in the coming months. That means women might soon be able to go into ATM vestibules near their homes to register a sexual assault, instead of trekking to a police station.
The HM inspects a prototype of 'IClick' a machine which could be used for registering FIRs in future. pic.twitter.com/EOvUEH75gM— HMO India (@HMOIndia) November 29, 2014
In the privacy of the vestibule, a person can submit a complaint on iClick by typing it in, speaking into a microphone, or writing it down and feeding the document to the multilingual machine. The message will immediately be relayed to the nearest police department. (The machines can technically be used to report all crimes, by men and women alike.)
"It can really revolutionize the way we interact with the police," Nayak says.
Not everyone is so sure. If the problem here is the police, nothing short of police reform will solve it, says Shamina Shafiq, of the National Coalition of Women in India, a government organization that receives numerous complaints of police apathy from women every day.
India's police stations are safe spaces for Indian women or men, says Shafiq, and the iClick—as innovative as it is—doesn't change that. What it does change is that now women don't have to rely on uncooperative police officers to file a report for them, and that's a good start.
Building a better record of sexual crimes is important, says Nayak. Sexual assaults are an epidemic like Ebola, he says, and it's hard to gauge the extent of the problem without accurate reporting. The idea is for police to investigate all crimes logged in an iClick machine, though there's no rule currently making that mandatory.
The young Indian women I shared the idea of iClick with on Facebook were not convinced. One responder questioned the machine's entire premise:
They had more questions: How private are the records? Will the responses to these complaints also be documented? What about the not-so-tech-savvy—will they get a primer? Until all questions are addressed satisfactorily, it's impossible to tell whether or not the kiosk will become another item on the list of well-meaning, but now-defunct ideas to make India's roads safer.