In December, a 16-year-old girl in Calcutta was burned alive. Authorities believe she was targeted as punishment for reporting her gang-rape to the police. Two months earlier, on her way home from the police station after notifying cops about the six men who raped her, she was accosted and raped again. The next time the men came for her, they killed her. Her death sparked protests throughout India.
That’s the environment facing many Indian women, particularly in rural areas of the country, who attempt to press charges against their rapists and abusers. If they’re seeking to report members of their family or community, they can be threatened with death for going to the cops. And on top of that, many women don’t feel safe in police stations; the profession remains dominated by men, and women are often subject to sexual harassment if they walk into the station without being accompanied by a male relative.
But Joydeep Nayak, a senior member of the police force in India, is working to change that. Nayak developed an electronic kiosk resembling an ATM machine that allows women to discreetly log police reports in public places. The so-called “Instant Complaint Logging Internet Kiosk,” or “iClik,” has been installed in a bank in Bhubaneswar as part of a six-month pilot project to test the innovation.
— Ian Geldard (@igeldard) August 23, 2014
“Women were being denied a fundamental right because of this fear of going to the police. Why should they need someone’s help to do something so basic?” Nayak pointed out in a recent interview with the Toronto Star.
To address that, his iClik system is designed to be accessible for all Indians, whether or not they’re literate. Users can enter their complaints by recording them, typing them, or scanning a piece of paper. The machine sends the files to the closet police station, and each woman receives a receipt with information about how to track the status of her complaint. So far, it seems to be working. The Toronto Star reports that about eight to ten women use the machine every day.
The local Women’s Commission has launched an awareness campaign to spread the word about the new resource even further, and Nayak hopes to eventually expand the iClik program. “My dream is to have a kiosk alongside existing ATMs, in schools, railway stations and bus stations, all over the country — so that women can walk in, complain and leave without any escort or hassles,” he said.
The pressure to effectively crack down on sexual assault in India has intensified over the past several years, as horrific cases of rape continue to make international headlines. Last year, Indian lawmakers attempted to strengthen some of the legal penalties for rape; nonetheless, sexual assault prevention advocates argue that hasn’t done enough to change the widespread culture of victim-blaming, harassment, and gender-based violence. Earlier this month, India’s prime minister used his biggest speech of the year — somewhat analogous to the U.S. president’s annual State of the Union address — to slam rape culture, raising those activists’ complaints to an ever higher profile.
India isn’t the only place where women struggle to report incidences of sexual assault and abuse. Here in the United States, an estimated 60 percent of sexual crimes aren’t reported to the police — largely because women are often subject to harassment and abuse from the cops and their community, and told that the assault must have been their own fault. Once an American rape victim speaks up, outsiders often work hard to prove that he or she is lying.