Your weekend outrage: Indian government plans ‘alert device’ to stem crime

This is either the most outrageous example of ‘NIH’ (not invented here), willful ignorance or sheer howling incompetence by the Indian Government in the face of frequent personal assaults often leading to death. The Wall Street Journal India just revealed, in the blandest possible terms, that the Indian Government’s ‘department of electronic innovations’ will be working on plans to develop a prototype wristwatch by mid-year that can, when the wearer pushes the panic button 1) send a text message to police and family members, 2) has a GPS to send location and 3) shoots 30 minutes of video–for US$20-$50. As our readers will remember, an attack on a young couple in central Delhi in December, and her subsequent death from beating and rape, made international headlines in December, initiated mass protests and revealed police incompetence in fighting and prosecuting crime.

Needless to say that what immediately came to Editor Donna’s mind was that there are already several devices on the market that do precisely that for the alert functions; the two top-of-minds were Aerotel’s GeoSkeeper and Lok8U’s Freedom but this Editor is sure our readers can identify others. All the state-run telecom, ITI, need do is adopt or license the technology and market it at a low affordable price perhaps subsidized by said Government. Cheaper, better, faster.

A panic button will not save the vulnerable from attack. Any device may be ineffective in a remote area, where the police are distant or not responsive and if the wristwatch is torn off. Encouraging women to take courses in situational awareness and personal self-defense–including the proper use of self-defense weaponry such as tasers, pepper spray (Mace) or even low-load pistols–would be a lot more effective as a first line. Better policing and law enforcement would also be strong deterrents. This ‘watch’ idea is a decent tool and a backup especially for those who cannot carry said defense, and better than nothing in discouraging assaults. And video is not needed–so after the fact, hardly a deterrent and perhaps even a further incentive for a criminal to badly maim or kill a victim.

So why is the Indian Government taking its sweet time in developing, then providing, an alert and video wristwatch to mitigate crime, when ‘off the shelf’ alert versions are readily available? Is it merely a bone thrown to the protestors? Certainly those who have been victims, or are close to someone who has been, will grimace consuming this serving of oatmeal. A Wrist-Worn Answer to Sexual Attack? (Wall Street Journal IndiaRealTime) A hat tip to Toni Bunting, TANN Ireland.

Update 4 Feb: Here’s a combination that in a right-side world might seize the imagination of the Indian Government: pepper spray, blinding light, quick photo that is then sent via Android smartphone to authorities. Stop/divert attack, get evidence and send to the police. Devised by three students from Cornell University for their ‘Design for Microcontrollers’ course, it may be far from finished work but even starting at this point, the turnaround to a workable, inexpensive defense/notification tool might be far shorter than the magic watch, and do more. Article (The Next Web) and the students’ project PDF. Another tip o’ hat to Toni Bunting.

Categories: Latest News.


  1. Cathy

    Is the UK really so different to India? From 3ML we have this picture “Lovely ladies” really? REALLY? are we living in the 21st century here or the middle ages!

    There is nothing wrong with being a Lady but I suspect not one of them is a Lady; although I am not suggesting they are not well mannered women. Next thing we will be seeing is Wonder Women! I am all for getting rid of being overly PC but for a professional organisation to call their all female team Lovely ladies is patronising and naive.

    And then we ponder the question of why the Indian Government is dallying about creating a new piece of technology to protect people from sexual crime? This too is about culture and not technology. In a culture where woman are not even considered to be second class citizens, they are considered to be chattels – belonging to their fathers until they marry (as pure as the day they were born) at which point their ownership transfers to their husbands. Any woman who does not conform to this culture is seen as a threat and it would seem a ‘free for all’.

    Why does everyone assume that technology can heal all ills and make our world a safe place to be? I marvel at what technology can offer, I love to explore new pieces of technology and what it can achieve – I am an engineer.

    The best engineers however do not focus on the bit of kit – they consider the problems that needs solving and apply the kit to that solution. People want to cross the river without waiting for a boat so lets build them a bridge? It will be quicker, the options for travel are more flexible and it will be safer if we make it from the right materials. We don’t then go and build a bridge from drinking straws and spaghetti, we do look at modern materials and construction techniques but we also often employ the same basic structural mechanics as has been used in building bridges for years … please don’t ask me to explain them in detail I am not a structural mechanics engineer.

    When I went for my first job interview, after graduating, the all male panel asked me (the only female candidate) two questions that offended me. “Can you wire a three pin plug?” – this offended me because as a mechanical engineer it wasn’t relevant but what business would I have calling myself an engineer if I could not complete a simple task like this? The final question was “What does your father think about your career choice?” I replied “both my parents have been supportive of my choices throughout my life, we have the sort of relationship that they offer advice and I take it or not as I choose but they still love me – but had my grandfather lived to see me follow in his footsteps he would have been very proud of his first born grandchild.” This was not a small company – this was a very large national organisation! I got the job by the way.

    Whether we are building bridges or supporting people to live safely and independently with a mobile phone gadget it only works well if our society and our cultural values support the technical solution. Of course the Indian Government is not in a rush to solve the problem of rape crime; they are elected by the very men that believe that women are their chattels. Of course the British Government is making it easy for one or two very big players to dominate the telecare and telehealth markets:
    – it is elected by the populace who reject robots as carers because they do not understand, are not educated that technology can be a positive support for people.
    – Large companies pay large corporation taxes and at a time when the purse strings are pulled tight every penny in the Government coffers is precious.

    Whether we like it or not the current telecare and telehealth market in the UK is a political football field; politics and discrimination have no part in care – or shouldn’t have. Yet we in the UK are all complicit in this – the majority of us either voted for the Government and so we get what we asked for OR didn’t vote at all which allowed a Government to be formed which maybe doesn’t represent our views – it is our culture, we do not think our one little vote really makes a difference … it does!

    In the UK we cannot change the Indian Government’s approach but we can demonstrate that people – all people deserve the same levels and standards of courtesy, consideration and care. So “Lovely Ladies” at 3ML let’s see you do a real job with this – let’s stop the nonsense because it is culturally easy to do it that way and let’s stop degrading other women in other countries were they are not valued for themselves.

    Let’s put some compassion and humanity into the use of technology and stop playing political football – well unless you are rushing to your manicure appointment?

  2. Donna Cusano

    Cathy, your points are well taken that India has a broader societal problem in the regard of women. This whole shoving it onto tech is classic handling of a ‘hot potato.’ What is embarrassing for the Government is that their policing, response and prosecution system also appears, from press reports, horribly broken no matter your sex. (Note that a man was with her and also horribly beaten.)

    Perhaps Bollywood can help. A heroine of the movie is shown in a class learning how to spot situations, to defend herself against attack and how to use a few real-life tools (see above)–the class can break out into song at the appropriate point :lol: –and then using her knowledge to refuse to be a victim. Then she crusades for better policing. That scenario might be worth more than any Government device, because film is a very powerful popular medium in India that crosses languages and borders–and would further popularize that women have the right to be unmolested and that law enforcement must be fixed, fast.

  3. Cathy

    From the update:

    [quote]pepper spray, blinding light, quick photo that is then sent via Android smartphone to authorities. Stop/divert attack, get evidence and send to the police.[/quote]
    Well okay but not only are these simply ‘sticking plasters’ rather than medicine but the smartphone ownership in India is still low. 27m might sound like a lot of smartphones but when you look at the populations it is around 3% and just 4% of those are owned by women.

    Technology is only ever going to be a very partial very short term fix if the society in India does not change.


    Better to prevent than to record and provide evidence.
    Laws need to be changed, criminal justice system needs to change, culture need to change. These will take decades if not centuries. These attacks will continue in the mean time.
    There needs to be a ‘something’ now.
    Serious questions – if you were about to be attacked, and you are on your own with one or more attackers, 1)what would you want in your hand at that time 2)what in reality would you have?

    Personally 1) I would want a gun that fires a lot of bullets. 2)my phone which I feel would be completely and utterly inadequate. How many rape victims here in the UK have provided audio/visual evidence that they gathered themselves during the attack? Any that have used GPS locators or panic buttons yet we have them all to hand. It is almost blindingly obvious why. I haven’t heard of any so why would it work in India?

  5. Cathy

    [quote]Serious questions – if you were about to be attacked, and you are on your own with one or more attackers, 1)what would you want in your hand at that time 2)what in reality would you have? [/quote]
    1. Nothing
    2. Nothing

    No I am not being flippant. The best protection is in the surprise of self defence so having things in the hands is not helpful. Having a knife or gun runs the risk of it being turned against you. Having a pepper spray risks you being temporarily incapacitated by it yourself.

    Prevention: where possible avoid high risk areas. When travelling alone on public transport sit in an aisle seat so it is easier to get up and move. Be vocal at the first sign of threat – a lot of noise and fuss is a deterrent. Know the route you are following and where there are safe places along it.

    Self Defence: There are several vulnerable places on the human body – learn where, learn how to make a short sharp surprise move … I am talking much more subtle and safer than a knee in the groin – that move would put the person delivering it off balance and increase their risk. Likewise unless you are a really competent martial artist you risk freezing.

    [b]erm – hope I do not need to say this but just in case: Do not try this at home![/b] The ‘ring’ finger on each hand is very vulnerable if you can quickly grab and pull it upwards (ie towards the back of their hand). You do not need to keep holding the finger so you quickly move yourself to a safe distance and avoid a counter attack. There are others … ask at your local police station for any training that may be available to community groups.

    That said even these are of limited value in a culture where the victims do not believe they can stand up to oppression.