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Women in India fight sexual harassment with smartphones

Interest in phone apps with SOS buttons to alert contacts and websites to report sexual harassment has surged as more women challenge the view that they have a lower status than men.

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    A woman takes pictures with her mobile phone at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) during Eid al-Fitr in the old quarters of Delhi, India.
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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 as greater awareness of violence against women spreads.

In the latest of a series of incidents, a young Indian 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 filmed her rebuke of him in front of the other passengers.

The video, posted on YouTube last week, went viral, adding to growing 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 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 SOS buttons to alert contacts and websites to report sexual harassment has surged in the past year or so as more women challenge the age-old patriarchal attitudes in India that view women as lower status than men.

"A video is a weapon that scares patriarchy. The proof, like in the IndiGo case, is mostly undeniable," wrote Piyasree Dasgupta, on leading news website firstpost.com. "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."

EMPOWERED BY SOCIAL MEDIA

The latest video made on a domestic flight by budget airline IndiGo from Mumbai had been seen by 4.4 million viewers as of Feb. 5 and sparked outrage across social media.

"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 is sorry and asking forgiveness, watched by passengers disembarking the plane.

Upon landing in Bhubaneswar, in eastern Odisha state, the victim lodged a complaint with IndiGo crew and local police, said an airline statement.

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 in the city of Rohtak hit the headlines when a video taken by other passengers showed them fighting with three young men who harassed them on a bus in the northern state of Haryana. One of the sisters hits the men with a belt while passengers on the bus watch without intervening.

Another video from the southern city of Bangalore in August 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."

The same month, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, a video showing girls slapping an aggressor in a market went viral.

Since the fatal gang-rape in Delhi in 2012, 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 the National Crime Records Bureau. These include rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, and molestation.

(Writing by Alisa Tang, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

 This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

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