The Gadget That Lets India’s Women Fight Sexual Harassment in Real Time

They’re using their smartphones to shoot video of their harassers and shame them on social media.
A woman in New Delhi shows off her phone. (Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters)
Feb 22, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Nita Bhalla covers South Asia humanitarian affairs for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, based in New Delhi.

Indian women armed with smartphones are using the clout of social media to fight sexual harassment by filming and publicly shaming men who molest them.

In one of the latest incidents, a young woman used her smartphone to shoot video of a man sitting behind her on an IndiGo airline flight who tried to grope her between the seats. She also filmed her rebuke of him in front of the other passengers.

The video, posted on YouTube, quickly went viral and is driving anger over gender violence in the world’s second most populous country, where women are frequently sexually harassed in public and on transportation.

The trend to name-and-shame sex offenders comes after the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. The incident sparked public protests and led to a national debate about the security of women, encouraging victims once embarrassed to come forward to use smartphones to expose perpetrators.

Interest in safety apps with emergency buttons to alert contacts and websites to report sexual harassment has surged in the past year as more women challenge the patriarchal attitudes in India that view women as having lower status than men.

“A video is a weapon that scares patriarchy. The proof, like in the IndiGo case, is mostly undeniable,” journalist Piyasree Dasgupta wrote on Firstpost.com, a leading Indian news site. “It leaves the woman with more power than usual to fight for her own cause, with little need of either empathy or logistical help from a man. It pins a man down for his crimes with little scope of escape.”

The Indigo video, made on a domestic flight from Mumbai, had been seen by 7.4 million viewers as of Feb. 19. “Because I’m a girl, and you have the right to touch me anytime, anywhere you want to?” the woman yells at the middle-aged man, who tries to cover his face with his hand.

The man eventually responds, saying he’s sorry. He asks for forgiveness as passengers disembark. Upon landing, the victim lodged a complaint with IndiGo crew and local police.

The video is the latest of several incidents caught on camera by victims, their friends, and bystanders to show how Indian women and girls are feeling empowered by the use of smartphones and standing up to their aggressors.

In November, two sisters made headlines when a video taken by other passengers showed them fighting with three young men who harassed them on a bus. In the video, one of the sisters hits the men with a belt while other passengers watch without intervening.

Another video, made in August in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, showed a female jogger chasing a man who was sexually harassing her, catching up with him and forcing him to the ground. She kicks him and tells him to “get lost.”

That same month, a video showing girls slapping an aggressor in a market went viral.

Since the fatal 2012 gang rape in New Delhi, the Indian government has tightened laws for crimes against women and introduced tougher penalties. But many Indian women say they feel no safer, according to a recent poll in the Hindustan Times.

There were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police in 2013, up from 244,270 the previous year, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau. These include rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, and molestation.

This article originally appeared at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.