As per a notice issued April 22 from January 1, 2017, all mobile phone handsets in the country are to be sold with an in-built panic button and by the same date in 2018, to include Global Positioning System (GPS). The new rule--Panic button and Global Positioning System facility in all mobile phone handsets Rules, 2016-- aims to improve women’s safety and increase accessibility to police forces, as well as promote immediate action. “Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women?” stated Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, after he signed the order.
Maneka Gandhi, India’s Women and Child Development Minister, hailed the in-built system as a “game changer”. The panic button can be activated by pressing 5 or 9 on non-smart phones, and by pressing the power button three times to make an emergency call on smart phones. Devices sold prior to the ruling coming into on-ground effect can be upgraded at service centres.
“We finally managed to get the panic button,” said Ms Gandhi, as reported by The Hindu. “We have been working on it over the last two years...When I came to the Ministry there were proposals that women should wear necklaces (with an in-built device pressing which could trigger an alarm). So we thought that it is best to have the panic button on the phone. Even in rural areas women have phones now.”
India is the said to be the world’s second largest market for mobile phones. From rickshaw drivers and vegetable sellers to businessmen and government officials, there are more than a billion users across the country. There already exist a number of ‘panic button apps’ for both Android and iOS smartphones, but as stated in a release by the government’s Press Information Bureau, “A woman in distress does not have more than a second or two to send out a distress message as a perpetrator will often reach out to her mobile phone in the event of a physical/sexual assault.” In the past, the government has told women to take up martial arts for self defense and to “dress modestly” to prevent physical and sexually-motivated attacks. In theory, a panic button on mobile phones sounds helpful, but only time will tell how useful it would actually be in situations of distress.
Representational feature image courtesy news24online.com