The state government has been extensively campaigning for women to install the app following the recent incident of rape on the Krishna river bank near Tadepalli.

Woman browsing phone with her hands Image for representation only
news Crime Wednesday, June 30, 2021 - 11:08

In the wake of the sexual assault incident involving a young nursing student on the Krishna river bank near Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s official residence, the Andhra Pradesh government seems to be fighting criticism, by extensively promoting the Disha SOS mobile app. Women police officers, and ward and village volunteers have been asked to take up a door-to-door campaign, to create awareness about the app’s features and usage, and to encourage all women who have smartphones to install the app. Speaking at a promotional event for the app held at Gollapudi on June 29, CM Jagan said that the Krishna river bank incident had enraged him, and had triggered the campaign around the app which could help women in distress to make emergency calls to the police. The statement came amid heavy criticism from opposition parties, which accused the government of failing to take swift action in the Seethanagaram rape case, in which the accused are yet to be nabbed.

The Disha app, which was launched more than a year ago in February 2020, was part of a slew of measures announced by the Andhra Pradesh government to address crimes against women. The app includes the “panic button” or SOS feature, a tool which has been previously launched in several other states, and helps women connect to emergency helplines in limited time. When in danger, women can either push an SOS button on the app, or shake the phone thrice if the ‘hand gesture’ feature is enabled, to send an SOS request. The SOS request sends the user’s location, along with a ten second audio and video recording, to the Disha Command Control Room. The control room calls the user, and in case of no response, or a response confirming they’re in danger, the SOS request is passed on to the nearest emergency response vehicle. The functioning of the app was demonstrated at the event in the presence of CM Jagan through a live demo distress call. 

How the app has fared so far

Jagan said on June 29 that through the campaign, the app is expected to reach 1 crore downloads. In the past 16 months, the Disha app has been downloaded 17.65 lakh times, according to authorities. Around 1.68 lakh SOS requests have been sent out through the app. However, most of them were test calls made by users checking to see if the feature was working, State Disha Special Officer Deepika Patil told TNM. Only 1,297 of these were actionable cases and a total of 220 FIRs have been registered in these SOS requests, she said. Incidentally, a majority of these actionable calls were related to violence in private and not public spaces. 

“Of these 1,297 actionable SOS calls, the majority are related to domestic violence cases, followed by stalking and street sexual harassment cases. In case of street harassment, when we go and solve the issue, they often don’t want to register an FIR. In cases of domestic violence, some of them are sent to one stop centres for counselling, so the number of FIRs drops even further,” Deepika Patil said. Most of the actionable calls received were from urban areas, she said, adding that callers included students, working women and homemakers. “The response time for SOS in cities and suburban areas is around 5 minutes to 6 minutes. In rural areas, it differs from district to district, based on the terrain and how interior the place is,” she said. 

Apart from the SOS feature, the app offers the option of contacting the district command control room by dialling 100 or 112, and includes information of police officials’ contacts, the nearest police station, hospitals, and safer places with CCTV coverage. It also allows users to add up to five emergency contacts who will be notified along with the police, when the SOS request is sent. Another feature called ‘Track my Travel’ can be enabled when needed, which allows the police to track the user’s location and movements. 

Authorities said that the user's location will only be tracked when a SOS request is sent, or the ‘Track my Travel’ feature is enabled. An additional feature, which will show users any isolated places to avoid, where women might be vulnerable to crime,  will be added soon, Deepika Patil said. “We are in the phase of doing vulnerability mapping right now. Once we get these maps from the districts, which show isolated, dark places where crimes against women have happened, we will incorporate them into the Disha app,” she said. 

Disha Bill and other measures 

In December 2019, Andhra Pradesh passed two Bills to enable speedy investigation and trial in cases of sexual offences against women and children, and to award death penalty in such cases. The proposed law was named after Disha, as a tribute to a 26-year-old veterinary doctor raped and murdered in neighbouring Telangana, in the outskirts of Hyderabad. The Andhra Pradesh Disha Act Criminal Law (AP Amendment) Act, 2019, sought to amend the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to conclude the judgment in rape cases within 21 days, and to give death penalty to convicts in cases of “heinous offences of rape and gangrape.” However, it was not accepted by the Union government, and the Andhra Pradesh government passed an amended Bill a year later. This version of the law is yet to be approved by the Union government. 

Another proposed law, the Andhra Pradesh Disha (Special Courts for Specified Offences against Women and Children) Bill, 2020, which  is also awaiting the Union government’s approval, provides for the constitution of exclusive special courts in each district for speedy trial of specified offences against women and children. So far, 18 Disha police stations have been set up across districts, and special public prosecutors have been appointed to deal with cases under the Disha law and the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act. Apart from these measures, there has been focus on technology, including the Disha SOS app, an app called Abhayam (which tracks the movement of auto rickshaws in Vizag to “enhance safety of women using public transport”), and a web portal called ‘4S - Stay Safe Stay Smart’ to deal with cyber crimes against women and children. 

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, the state government even announced a 10% discount on mobiles to women who download the Disha app. Following the Krishna river bank sexual assault incident, the government is now promoting the Disha app extensively. However, the opposition TDP (Telugu Desam Party) leaders have criticised the YSRCP government for failing to nab the accused even 10 days since the incident took place on June 19.   

Watch the video of Andhra police giving a live demo of Disha SOS: 

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