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Safe public spaces = Infringing privacy?

Shubhangi Gehlot, (Law student at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat)


Recently, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a new system to track the movements of working women under ‘Operation Samman’ in order to ensure their safety. Though its implementation is yet to be confirmed and whether there will be a mandatory provision to register their movements with the police authorities. But is it just another step to promote inequality by ignoring the need for men to have gender sensitisation programs and constant violation of women’s basic rights in the name of “women-friendly policies”?

The idea of using technology in different parts of India through CCTV cameras or AI cameras to track the women who are in distress in public spaces is not just exploiting the constitutional right of privacy but also ignoring to track the ones who are an actual societal threat. Talking about liberty, freedom and equality for ages whether through the famous cases of Maneka Gandhi and Aadhar judgment or concerns expressed by Former Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu on the same, has no impact on the governments.

Moreover, the intent to just protect those women who are present in the public domain for job purposes is itself a discriminatory step towards those women who want to exist in that same place and enjoy their basic human right. This proves that the public arena is also subjected to patriarchy and becomes bizarre when women utilise those places as free humans. The step also avoids the nature of intersectional feminism as women working in unorganised sectors on a daily basis have to walk on the isolated public paths without mobile phones or accessibility to tracking devices. There is also a lack of CCTV cameras in such areas to keep an eye on the offenders.

The proposed systems are not even scientifically sound as studies prove that Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are not completely reliable in sensing the accurate emotions of distress. The perturbed facial expressions can also be due to the constant police tracing rather than harassment or stalking in public places. Secondly, there are no proper data protection laws to protect and store such kind of sensitive data. This kind of mass surveillance without assured provisions can lead to many women’s exploitation through the circulation of their images and videos on a horrific and larger scale.

All these steps are just promoting the notion of ‘victim-blaming’ by constant monitoring and analysing each movement of working women. Though there are many ambiguously logical policies to be implemented, a basic and favourable step is adopted by the M.P government which is to mandatorily install panic buttons in public transportation. Moreover, a special helpline number will be provided to such women, enabling them to call for help when needed. Despite the effective and non-effective measures planned by the government, there is nothing that can replace a proper plan for awareness about gender equality and sensitisation among the male members of Indian society.

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