ICLIK, installed at a bank, gives victims afraid to go to a police station a way to lodge complaints about harassment and abuse — even if they’re illiterate.
Most Indian women think very carefully before walking into a police station to lodge a complaint. The all-male officers, the macho atmosphere, and the corresponding fear of sexual harassment deter them.
If they go at all, they go escorted by a male relative or their husband. In the case of Manju Mitra, 38, who lives in Bhubaneswar in east India, this was not an option, as it was her husband she wanted to report — for beating her and demanding more dowry: a lump sum of 200,000 rupees (CAD $3,600), to be precise.
In fact, after she steeled herself to visit the police station, she made it only halfway before her husband and his friends waylaid her and threatened to kill her if she went to the police.
“A friend had told me about this new ATM-like machine for police complaints, so I went there on Saturday. I typed out my complaint. In 10 minutes, I was out. It was so easy, I wish more women knew about it,” she said.
Mitra is unaware that word is spreading about this new way of registering police complaints. Eight to 10 women use the machine every day.
It is the brainchild of Inspector General of Police Joydeep Nayak, who, after the 2012 Delhi gang rape that reverberated around the world, used to ruminate on how he could help combat violent crimes against women.
He knew most women were too afraid to enter an all-male police station without a chaperone, effectively restricting their right to report a crime.
The eureka moment came to Nayak as he walked to work past an ATM machine. What if they could report the crime into an ATM-like machine instead?
“Women were being denied a fundamental right because of this fear of going to the police. Why should they need someone’s help to do something so basic?” says Nayak.
As part of a six-month pilot project, the machine, which looks like an ATM but is called ICLIK, or “Instant Complaint Logging Internet Kiosk,” has been installed inside a bank in Bhubaneswar. Any woman who does not wish to report a complaint at a police station can come to ICLIK instead.
She can either type out a complaint, get a complaint she has already written scanned by the machine, or, if she is illiterate, speak into the machine to register her complaint.
The machine gives her a slip which she can use to track the progress of the complaint. Meanwhile, the complaint is sent to the relevant police station to be acted on.
“My dream is to have a kiosk alongside existing ATMs, in schools, railway stations and bus stations, all over the country — so that women can walk in, complain and leave without any escort or hassles,” said Nayak.
Indian policemen are as much part of the patriarchal system that causes violence against women as men generally, and many women have walked into a station to complain of sexual assault or rape only to be leered at, groped, or asked humiliating questions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to a recent string of rapes during his Independence Day speech on Aug. 15 by saying India should “hang its head in shame” over violence against women.
One rape takes place every 30 minutes in India, according to figures from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Women’s activists have welcomed the response to the machine as more and more women use it.
“The fact that women are put off from going to a police station to file a complaint masks the real scale of the problem of violence. We don’t have the real figures. If we had these kiosks all over, we would then know the true picture,” said Mamta Sharma, chair of the National Commission for Women in New Delhi.
Mitra, who has moved in with her father, was surprised at the speed of police action. “I’ve heard my husband is on the run because the police are trying to arrest him — and this is just two days after I lodged the complaint,” she said.