The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Veerapandi Palanisamy Harshini Raji, C.Velayutham: ‘Shakthi’: An experimental study on developing and testing a mobile phone application to bring legal redressal awareness to young women of India

Harshini Raji, Veerapandi Palanisamy

Anna University, Chennai, India

Dr. C.Velayutham

‘Shakthi’was a mobile phone application launched in Chennai, India, as part of an experimental study by the authors with the goal of spreading awareness of legal redressal procedures available for women in the Indian legal system. Translated as ‘The female power’, the ‘Shakthi’app was promoted among women (in the age group of 18-25) for a period of 26 days (from February 16th ‘March 12th, 2016) to study the amount of awareness the application was able to spread to its users. ‘Shakthi’was built for Android phones and was tested real time on a focus group of 50 young women participants. The prototype addressed topics like: what is a First Information Report (FIR) and How to file it?, redressal process for those sexually harassed at work place, how to seek remedy if cyber stalked in social media , and what are the basic rights of a complainant and so on.

In 2013, the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape incident took place in New Delhi, it created shock waves across India, igniting several debates including that of implementing new age measures to ensure the safety and security of women in India. The same year, a statistics of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveals that among the crime recorded for every one lakh of the population, 523 crimes (other than women crimes) were registered. However, for every one lakh women population, only 52 crimes were registered. In India, many heinous crimes against women remain under reported. Reasons being social stigma, patriarchal notions, illiteracy, and most importantly, lack of awareness about reporting these crimes. Even urban, well- educated women find it difficult to report crimes because of the assumption that the redressal process in India is complicated. But with the basic understanding of the redressal procedure, women will be able to bring such crimes to light and fight for justice.

As of 2015, the number of cell phone subscribers in India is estimated as 1009.46 million, adding 6 million connections every month to the figure according to the Telecommunication regulatory authority of India (TRAI). The telecommunication industry in India has seen a boom, increasing the competition for service providers which has in turn reduced the costs of availing these services. Along with this, there is a continuous advancement in wireless technology and the widespread use of mobile devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), palms, and pocket PCs, many innovative mobile applications are also emerging, These aim at enhancing wireless communication and providing users with ubiquitous access to information. In the business area, mCommerce (Mobile eCommerce) applications, such as mobile banking, advertising, shopping, food, entertainment and a variety of other services are available in one tap.

With the emergence of new digital communication platforms, conveying messages of social need is becoming easier. Mobile phone applications are one such effective medium. This paper analyses how Shakthi served as a ‘comprehensive legal redressal guide’for young women in understanding their rights and procedural application of the same.

The usability test of Shakthi was performed on 30 young women between the age group of 18-25 years. These participants were asked to fill a pre- test questionnaire followed by the installation of the application on their respective smart phones. They were encouraged to use the app throughout the study period of 26 days and after which, they were asked to answer a post- test questionnaire to learn how women subscribers use the service, what they learnt from it, what they like and dislike about it and whether the service influences their awareness.

During the pre-test, it was understood that 67% of the participants do not have a mobile phone application that brings about social awareness on rights pertaining to women. However, the rest of the participants use apps like New Delhi Television (NDTV), The Hindu Newspaper (News based apps) on their phones. 46% of the women used Shakthi for about 10- 20 minutes in a week; 30.7% used the app for 5-10 minutes and 7% never opened the app. 61.5% opened the app 1- 2 times a week. On comparing the pre and post test results, 100% of the participants knew what an FIR was, but 60% of them did not know how to file an FIR before using the app. On using the app, 100% of the participants now evidently know how to file an FIR in the time of need. 87.5% of the participants wish they knew more about the legal redressal procedure for crimes against women available in India and 75% of them specifically wanted to learn about cybercrime and sexually harassment redressal, when questioned at first. On using the app, 76.9 % of the participants had learnt how and where to seek redressal for a grievance.

Mobile connectivity is increasing in the developing world. Many of the applications that are used frequently involve Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook and Google, which are apps that are distributed without the involvement of the mobile network operators. However, it is understood that with the increase in the number of mobile phones and its technological aspects, women will want more capabilities available through a mobile phone application that targets their safety and awareness. Participants were keen on learning more information under more titles that pertain to women rights. Shakthi, was designed with the limits to understand the demands and gauge the need for awareness and how a digital platform can engage them. Future projects or continuation of this study should help equip women gain more knowledge on how to address other grievances caused by crimes against them, with more information and add meaning to the technology enhanced lives of women in developing countries.

Veerapandi Palanisamy Harshini Raji, C.Velayutham