Growing incidents of women facing harassment in cabs has pushed taxi aggregators to think of devising a safety feature in such vehicles. The government has also deliberated on ways to bring down the number of crimes against women happening in cabs. One of the initiatives the Delhi government has taken is to install GPS-linked panic buttons in all cabs functioning in the capital city.
Delhi’s transport department has promised that by April 2019, all taxis operating in Delhi -- including app-based aggregator platforms -- will have GPS-linked panic buttons. While installing panic buttons is a good idea, it is not a long-term solution for women using public transport, according to experts.
PROBLEMS WITH PANIC BUTTONS
“Panic button is one possible solution, but not something that would hugely tackle crimes happening in cabs. It is a bit concerning to imagine who are the first responders of these panic buttons? We need to understand if there are people at the beck and call of these panic buttons at all times. So these panic buttons and emergency apps appear as if people are scrambling for a quick fix to women’s safety and not thinking it through. And these panic buttons often don’t result in high number of women reporting crimes. There are panic buttons in emergency apps as well, but how many of these apps result in women using these panic buttons? The numbers are bare minimum,” said Kalpana Vishwanath, founder of Safetipin.
She feels that panic buttons could have better impact in buses where there are more people who could respond in an emergency.
- Panic button not a long-term solution because it wouldn’t curb the violence.
- Sexual violence in cabs minuscule compared to crimes against women in homes.
- Need to stop demonising lower class cab drivers as it is the easiest thing to do.
- We need more women out in public spaces for them to feel safe.
Nandita Shah, Co-Director at Akshara Centre, says that panic buttons give a woman a sense of control, but in the overall sense, it is not going to work. “Because even in a city like Mumbai, if a woman presses the panic button, nobody can arrive on time unless it is linked to the police, and most of the private efforts are not linked to the police. So we rather say that women should call a helpline number which can send police help on time. But the panic button doesn’t have that kind of impact and the amount we are spending to install panic buttons doesn’t guarantee safety."
HOW FREQUENT ARE CAB CRIMES?
Talking about if crimes happening in cabs, Vishwanath said, “We are making it appear that the lack of safety in cabs is bigger than it actually is. The number of cases of violence in cabs in comparison to the number of cabs women take on an everyday basis is miniscule. Most number of crimes actually happen within homes, but we are not putting panic buttons inside homes. So the demonization of a lower-class man is the easiest thing to do. I am not saying we shouldn’t find solutions for such crimes, but we need to take into account the gravity of the issue.”
However, Krishna Menon, gender studies professor at Ambedkar University, is of the view that crimes happening in cabs is about women’s ability to determine their mobility. “If the cab is not safe, places where women work, study etc. they will then inhibit women’s opportunity to go out and travel. People will be more conscious of women travelling in public spaces which will erode women’s autonomy. Therefore, it is very important to deal with safety issues in cabs.”
Like Vishwanath, even she does not want to demonize the cab driver. But she says that any instance that robs women of their ability to be mobile and see the city and its opportunity is a grave issue.
While Delhi government has taken the initiative of panic buttons and cab aggregators too have their own panic buttons, we need to consider all women who take cab rides across the country, not just in metro cities. Praveena Anand of Jagori, who lives in Ranchi and frequently takes cabs there, said, “While I have never used a panic button, I do think that it is more for protection instead of instilling a sense of security in me. An incident or a threat will have to happen first for a person to use the panic button."
POSSIBLE LONG-TERM SOLUTIONS
So panic buttons may not be completely insignificant, but some other measures need to come into place to deal with the issue. Shah believes working with drivers and strengthening women’s confidence could help the cause. “If a woman can call somebody, then that can also help her stay connected to another person while she is riding in a cab. We need to put more money in the publicity of helplines that police are running. Promotion of cases where police had actually arrived on time and rescued the woman could also empower more women to call up on the helpline service,” said Shah.
For Vishwanath, more women need to come out on the streets and reclaim their space for them to feel safer. “Get more women vendors on the streets, more women drivers etc. who act as eyes on the street. The reason why Mumbai and Chennai are safer cities is because they have more women vendors on the street, which is totally opposite in Delhi.”
"We need greater diversity and inclusion of all kinds of women like disabled women, transwomen etc. who are also victims of violence in public transport. Also, with fewer women, it seems like the city is meant for men and some women are bold enough to come out. That picture has to change."
Menon said: “We need more of women cab drivers but more than that we also need women who manage cab services, more women in transport sector who will bring their experience during the planning stage. Right now, women's voices are absent from the transport planning process. We need greater diversity and inclusion of all kinds of women like disabled women, transwomen etc. who are also victims of violence in public transport. Also, with fewer women it seems like the city is meant for men and some women are bold enough to come out. That picture has to change."
She added: "There is also a greater need for training of first responders of violence against women. The police personnel, medical personnel, nurse, legal officer and social worker all require sensitization and training on how to deal with these calls. If a police officer asks a woman victim what she was doing outside her home at 1 in the night, it will immediately rob the woman of her confidence. Systemic changes are important for any long-term valuable change to happen in curbing violence against women.”
The government, along with the other stakeholders, need to deliberate on this issue of women’s safety harder than to think that a panic button is the only possible solution to women’s safety.
Picture credit- Cabo San Lucas Tour