Social media makes it easy for victims to reach out to the police in making the legal recourse mechanisms more accessible to people, especially the women who are subjected to many harassments.
Records suggest that helplines launched by the police on different social media platforms have helped break down the barriers of official red tape and social stigma, the major discouragement for women who want to lodge harassment complaints at police stations.
In 2014, a year before the City Police launched WhatsApp helpline, 5,336 complaints were registered at the police stations in the city limits. By 2018, the figure rose sharply to 9,380, with almost 25% of the total complaints being registered through WhatsApp.
One of a homemaker (32-year-old) from Gajuwaka recounts how the WhatsApp helpline came to her rescue.
“I had been subjected to physical and mental torture by my husband for the last two years. Going to police station in person to lodge a complaint was a daunting task for me as I felt it would be embarrassing to narrate my frightening experience to an officer. But after coming to know about the WhatsApp helpline, I left a message with my details after which the police immediately responded and counselled my husband,” Sindhu says.
As part of its social media outreach campaign, the City Police have launched an Abhayam app and had set up several i-Clik centres.
However, the two initiatives appear to have failed to garner the desired results that the WhatsApp helpline has done.
Last year, the City Police received 2,449 complaints through social media platforms. Of these, 2,199 complaints (almost 95%) were filed through the WhatsApp helpline. About 33 complaints were sent via the police department’s Facebook page, 49 were filed through Twitter, and 168 complaints sent through e-mails.
Abhayam app can be downloaded on smartphones and victims, especially women, can alert the police of any crime taking place. I-Clik is a kiosk where a victim can lodge complaints without having to visit a police station. Though the target users for these two initiatives were women, police started to receive complaints from both men and women, thus taking away from the goal that the police had in mind.
After the social media platforms to lodge complaints were launched, complaints through Abhayam and i-Clik began dwindling, with centres at CMR Grand and Beach Road conking out altogether. Police admit that the response for both the initiatives has been poor.
“Abhayam and i-Clik have been serving good. But when it comes to social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook, their usage is simple. Many people do not know how to download an app and register themselves. But many find it easy to use WhatsApp. Around five to six cases reach the WhatsApp police helpline daily. Similarly Twitter and Facebook are mostly used by youth and e-mails are also used generally by professionals,” said DCP (Law & Order I) Ravindranath Babu.
According to police, among the complaints being received, land-related issues such as illegal encroachments and criminal intimidation account for 60% of the total. Another 20% are related to family issues, relationships going wrong, cheating, harassment while about 15% of the complaints are regarding road accidents or traffic-related issues.
“It is good that many housewives and even elderly parents are using WhatsApp to reach out to us and inform us about the harassment,” the DCP added.