is one of the fastest-growing markets for
cell phones in the world, but in some cases, women are not allowed to carry
them. In February, Reuters reported that several villages in western India had begun banning women and girls from using
phones on the rationale that the devices interfered with their studies or
allowed them to elope.] India
By Katie Rogers
Police officers near a house where a 15-year-old girl was set on fire
after being raped in
Credit Saurabh Das/Associated Press
hope to combat the threat of sexual violence
against women and girls by requiring panic buttons to be installed in every new
phone by January, and for every phone to be equipped with India GPS by 2018.
The announcement in April by Ravi Shankar Prasad,
’s minister of communications and information
technology, means that manufacturers would have to create a button designed to
alert the police and an owner’s friends or relatives in the event of distress, or
create a similar system that is activated by pressing the buttons 5 or 9. India does not yet have a nationwide emergency
response number. India
How would the panic button and
It is not clear how this change would be put in effect or how manufacturers would create a panic button.
Two of the country’s largest phone suppliers, Samsung and Apple, would not comment on the policy change. Lava, a fast-growing Indian telecommunications company; the Indian Cellular Association; and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with International Data Corporation, a global market research firm, said that
’s requirement was rare in the global phone
market, and that companies that build and sell low-cost phones in India might be affected more than large companies
like Apple. He said that many phones sold in India cost less than $20 and were not equipped
with features like India GPS. Adding such functions, Mr. Kaur said, could
raise the price of phones by at least 50 percent.
He noted that several companies already offered options like those proposed.
“There are a few apps that can be used on smartphones that serve the same function as a panic button,” Mr. Kaur wrote in an email. “The Uber app in
has a S O S button, too. There are a couple
of third-party apps, too, like the bSafe app. Motorola smartphones in India come with an emergency button option.” India
But Maneka Sanjay Gandhi,
’s minister of women and child development, said
manufacturers were on board. She said in a statementthat the requirements would
create a “safety net” for women and girls, and thanked phone manufacturers for
agreeing to bring about “historic change.” India
How do similar services work?
One Touch Response, a subscription-based service, can deploy employees to escort people home or go to their aid when they are summoned via an app or a phone call.
Arvind Khanna, the company’s founder, said in an email that the need for personal safety in
has created a $5 billion market that is
growing by 20 percent a year. India
“We currently serve over 35,000 paid subscribers along with hundreds of ‘Pay As You Go’ users,” he wrote. “Over 40 percent of our users are women.”
What are the obstacles?
“Let them study, get married, then they can get their own phones,” Ranjit Singh Thakor, president of a local council, told the news service. “Until then, they can use their fathers’ phones at home, if necessary.”
Also unanswered by officials is the matter of which service will answer the distress calls. A gang rape in 2012 drew a nationwide outcry, but Indian women who report their attacks still face understaffed police forces that operate on bribes, a court system that is backlogged with cases and a culture more focused on protecting the victims’ modesty than with catching and prosecuting attackers.
“If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police,” Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer based in New Delhi, told The New York Times in 2013.