Holding together the fabric of society

Holding together the fabric of society

Ashish Basu, an entrepreneur and  Kalpana Viswanath, an activist came together to develop a safety app for women’s mobiles. While the project is still underway, it is the start of a new era where digital tracking could protect women to an extent, reckons Anuradha Dutt

 A novel mobile application, geared to making Delhi – and subsequently other cities in India – safer for women has been launched recently in the capital. Called SafetiPin, the app has been designed by entrepreneur Ashish Basu and activist-researcher Kalpana Viswanath of Jagori, a women’s resource group.

While the map-based app can be downloaded free on Apple and Android platforms, which constitutes “more than 70 per cent of the smart phone market”, a Windows 8 version is expected to be released soon.

A virtual safety pin

According to Kalpana Viswanath, the brain behind the effort, “The idea came from the safety audits that have been conducted by Jagori and other groups. We wanted to take this tool and transform it in a way that would enable us to reach out to a much larger group of people.”

Why call it SafetiPin? The makers of the app explain the reasons behind this interesting name:  “The most obvious is that we show an audit score as a ‘pin’ on a map. Since the score is essentially a ‘safety’ score, it is a SafetiPin. The second reason is that in India traditionally women used the safety pin as a defence against harassment especially in crowded places. A jab in the flesh with a safety pin is often an effective deterrent to the roving hand. The third is that a safety pin is a symbol of something that holds fabric together – stops it from coming apart. Our hope is that our SafetiPin plays that role – brings together the fabric of our society.”

How it works

And here’s how the map-based app, which requires access to the Internet
and GPS, facilitates neighbourhood safety checks: once users download the app, they can create ‘circles of interest’ around various parts of the city, like their neighbourhood, office, markets, and so on. A post via the app on one of these circles will appear on a wall tagged for the circle.

The app also enables people to audit the circle to ascertain if the areas it covers are indeed safe, particularly from the stand point of whether or not they have adequate public transportation or street lighting.  Relevant pictures can be uploaded and opinions expressed so as to share information and inputs about a particular circle.

 Useful data, too, can be put out, as for instance, the location of the nearest police station or pharmacy; and users can even record security hazards such as broken street lights and open sewers, as well as previous cases of harassments reported from there. In addition, the detailed city map that forms the basis of this app demarcates safe, moderately safe and unsafe areas in three colours: green, orange and red, respectively.

A social enterprise

Ashish Basu, who designed the interface of SafetiPin, reveals that the idea was conceived through discussions between Kalpana and himself, although it has evolved over the last few years. “Kalpana, as the domain expert with access to both the knowledge and groups within the global women’s movement, helped define the safety audit parameters and the rubric within those parameters. The research process, specification formulation and broad U1 approach was done in about a month. The development team then devised the app as per specifications.

The whole exercise took about seven months,” he adds. Describing the effort as “a social enterprise” that will remain free for users, he clarifies that “a revenue model may be developed over time. As of now, UK Aid has provided support for developing the app and Ford Foundation is funding its implementation in the NCR towns of Gurgaon and Noida.
The next phase of the venture would involve adding a ‘group’ feature to make the app more useful to RWAs, companies and others “with special needs”. Informs Ashish Basu, “We are adding features to help professionals undertake custom audits and generate data for analysis and reporting. A tracking feature is in the offing as well.”

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