Mobile phones sold in India will be required to have a “panic button” after Jan. 1, part of the government’s efforts to address women’s safety in a country where incidents of reported rape continue to rise.
“It's a game changer,” Maneka Gandhi, the minister of women and child development, told reporters Tuesday.
The country’s department of telecommunications set up new rules released this week that require all low-tech feature phones to have a panic button configured to the number key 5 or 9 and all smartphones to have a feature that will engage when the on-off button is pressed three times.
Officials decided that having a physical “panic button” was faster than using an application for the mobile phone, Gandhi’s ministry said. In addition, all mobile phones will be required to have GPS by 2018.
The Indian Cellular Association, which represents the cellphone industry, has expressed support for the plan, but “it remains unclear whether manufacturers like Apple would play ball,” the daily Business Standard noted.
Concern over women’s safety has been a public flash point in India since the fatal gang rape of a young student on a moving bus in 2012 galvanized protests around the country. Both the central and state governments as well as law enforcement have tried to address the issue — with varying degrees of success — by adding closed-circuit television cameras in public spaces, help lines and self-defense courses and increasing gender sensitivity training for police. Many of the safety features, such as panic buttons and GPS devices installed in public buses, are not working or have been stolen, activists say.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tech-savvy Bharatiya Janata Party had earlier developed a “Raksha” application for Android phones to help protect women. At the time, critics suggested that rather than developing fancy apps, the country needs to work toward an environment that doesn’t put women in danger in the first place.