Mapping unsafe areas for India's women
- 23 October 2013
- From the section India
"I was going to my college at Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad. I got down from the bus and was walking forward... Suddenly a few men were coming from the front, and two of them walked by my side really close and one of them pinched my breast..."
This entry from the southern Indian city is one of the hundreds on safecity.in - a website created just days after last December's gang rape of a student in Delhi, to improve reporting and recording of sexual harassment and crimes against women.
The website offers an interactive map of the most unsafe places across Indian cities.
The Hyderabad entry continues: "I was shocked... I couldn't talk to anyone. I did not report it to the police as I could not see the face of the person who pinched me. There have been similar incidents in this area."
In India, sexual assault of women occurs every three minutes and data from the government's National Crime Records Bureau suggests that a woman is raped every 20 minutes. And these are crimes that have been reported to the police and are registered officially.
Thousands of incidents like the one at Dilsukhnagar are never registered and do not get into the crime records - something that safecity.in wants to change.
Founded by Surya Velamuri, Else Disilva, Saloni Malhotra and Aditya - a group of four young professional men and women - the website has created a "crowd-sourced" map of sexual harassment, covering safe and unsafe places across India.
And anyone, from anywhere in the world, can report an incident of sexual abuse on safecity.
"As women in the group, we asked ourselves what is it that has troubled us in various ways all through these years," says Surya Velamuri.
"Our aim was to customise it to Indian behaviour so we included categories like cat-calling, touching and groping, sexual invites, indecent exposure, et cetera."
Since its inception last year, safecity.in has received more than 962 reports of sexual abuse from across India with the capital, Delhi, recording the maximum number of complaints with 781. And the numbers are consistently growing.
"The map on our site can help in many ways. If you are a woman travelling to a new city, a look at the map will instantly tell you about the safe and unsafe locations," Ms Velamuri says.
"Also, if we see lots of reports coming from a specific area in a city, it can actually help the police and administration nail the possible reasons that make it unsafe, like poor lighting, insufficient patrolling or the presence of rogue elements," she adds.
'Scared and shy'
What makes the website popular with its women users is the anonymity they enjoy.
"We realised that women in India are usually scared and [too] shy to report sexual abuse. They do not like their names and identities to be revealed, but here you can post as an anonymous user."
But that creates a problem of a different kind. As most women visitors to the site do not leave their names or contact details, it makes it difficult to verify the reports, says Ms Velamuri.
Safecity has recently joined hands with Goa police and any user willing to make a formal complaint in the Goa region can disclose their identity to the police and get their case registered.
Ms Velamuri says the group is working on more such tie-ups with police in other cities and towns.
The group at present is working on a project to map the 100 most unsafe places in the capital, Delhi, and its surrounding areas.
A team of volunteers is collecting - and plans to upload - more than 100,000 reports of sexual crimes from Delhi residents.
The next step, Ms Velamuri says, will be to take up these reports with the police and local authorities.
Success, however, is still far away.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, India has only 130 million internet users and with limited internet penetration in rural India, safecity.in has a long way to go before it can map every corner of the country.