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Don’t Need Big Brother Watching Us: Who Says CCTVs Will Make Women Safer?

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By Kavita Krishnan:

The Railway Minister announced a move to install CCTV cameras in railway coaches and women’s coaches in suburban railways, ‘without compromising privacy’. Also, one of the election promises of the AAP Government in Delhi to ensure women’s safety has been installation of 15000 CCTV cameras in Delhi’s streets.

Are CCTVs the best way for Governments to spend money, in order to tackle gender violence? This question is worth considering, carefully.

Picture Credit: Steve Rotman
Picture Credit: Steve Rotman

CCTVs are a relatively easy thing for Governments to promise to tackle rape. CCTVs in public spaces can give people in urban spaces the message that the Government is ‘doing something about crime’. Mobile apps are another such ‘technological fix’ for violence against women.

Authors of a research study on CCTVs in Australia, note that “Even representatives of the security industry have noted ‘the increasing willingness of politicians using the implementation of surveillance cameras as election carrots,’ (‘Open-Street CCTV in Australia: The Politics of Resistance and Expansion’, Adam Sutton and Dean Wilson, Surveillance and Society)” even though their study found that “available evidence failed to establish that cameras reduced crime.”

What has the experience in India been? The Hyderabad Urban Lab, which specializes in research on urbanization, in their recommendations to the Committee on Women’s Safety in Telangana, commented on the experience of CCTVs in Hyderabad. They do not reject CCTV use in toto, but they do offer some important cautions, which are worth quoting in full:

“Hyderabad’s experience in the use of CCTVs is comparable to international experience. Cyberabad Police have demonstrated that CCTV surveillance can help in investigation of some cases. However, CCTV’s value in deterring crime in Hyderabad is still an open question. To maximize this effect, careful study has to be made with the specific goal of identifying the primary triggers and sites of crime and deploy cameras accordingly.

According to news reports citing vague claims that London has managed to bring down crime by 80 per cent by the use of CCTVs, the Government is planning to install a large number of CCTV cameras across the city.

However, scientific studies by reputed criminologists suggest that claims about surveillance technologies directly leading to fall in crime rate are often exaggerated. Research evidence from across the world, including London, which has become a model of high density surveillance, suggests that the CCTV surveillance has proved useful in targeted contexts especially for property related and vehicle related offences.”

They also point out that “In short, investment in new surveillance technologies is at best a short term deterrent. In the long term, only an investment in social institutions can guarantee safety for women.”

From the above, it is clear that there really isn’t much evidence to show that CCTV surveillance deters crimes against women.

But there are other, more worrying concerns too.

Freelance writer Richa Kaul Padte writes about some these other concerns. Again, this is worth quoting at length, and I strongly recommend that you read it in full.

…surveillance is a hot topic in several forums, from tech conferences to top-level government meetings. But what often gets left out of discussions is this: surveillance has, historically, socially and politically, always been an issue of gender. This isn’t a phenomenon unique to the technologies of today, because living under constant surveillance is enmeshed in the experience of being a woman – and has been way before CCTV became a thing. And much of what we experience as digital surveillance today is still rooted in gender inequalities.

From the dude opposite you in the underground who definitely seems like he’s taking a picture, not searching for signal (uh, we’re under the ground) to the CCTV your building installed that now shows you drunkenly stumbling home late at night, the surveillance camera – hidden or otherwise – is everywhere.

She mentions how CCTVs were installed at huge cost on Puri beaches – only to be removed after women protested, because they did not want cameras watching them as they swam in the sea.

When a journalist asked the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal if CCTVs might not impact privacy, he replied, ‘What do you want to do on the street that you want to hide from people?’, Padte addresses this question.

Proponents of mass surveillance often ask the question, ‘If you have nothing to hide, why are you worried?’ Leaving aside the dangers of mass data collection, racial profiling, and treating everyone like a criminal-until-proven-innocent, this question has a bunch of different implications for women.”

Women live in constant surveillance in society: they are watched and their movements are monitored and controlled by their families, by lovers and husbands, or stalkers – and all this watching is often justified with the ‘safety’ argument. ‘Safety’ becomes a means to justify the loss of autonomy.

There are in fact many things women do, that they could not do if they were forced to disclose these to their loved ones. In this circumstance, ironically, surveillance can just as easily be the source of danger. Women who are having a relationship with someone without telling parents, can risk losing their life if their parents come to know the secret. Mobile apps that allow a ‘loved one’ to track your movements can be creepy and scary for many women, whose intimate partners obsessively track them and snoop on them. In my experience as a women’s rights activist, I can’t count the number of cases where women seek help in dealing with a jealous husband or lover who wants to keep track of his wife/partner every minute. Tracking apps would allow him to snoop and stalk, as a ‘safety’ measure.

Moreover, in India, women going about their business on streets, feel unsafe and uncomfortable when alone – but they also feel discomfited by the eyes of people judging them for the way they dress or their behavior.

How will CCTV footage be used? Are there dangers for women in the ways it will be used?

In the Delhi metro, CCTV footage of couples was leaked as pornography on the internet. This incident should serve as a warning bell as to how vulnerable CCTVs in public spaces can make women.

And no, if Governments tell us that this should rather be a lesson against public display of affection, they are speaking the language of the Sangh moral policing outfits, and the language of victim-blaming. Even in public spaces, couples are entitled to spaces of privacy; they are entitled to expect others to mind their own business. This episode ought to make us pause and ask: Who exactly is going to watch the footage? What laws do we have in place to keep the data safe and the watchers accountable? What will they be looking for?

We need in particular to put ourselves in the shoes of the poorest and most vulnerable women, children and men, and then ask what CCTVs will mean for them. Urban policy-making rarely takes the needs of these people into account. But we must.

On streets, railway stations, trains, and buses, poor women, kids, transgenders and poor men live a precarious existence, an existence that involves an uneasy relationship with ‘legality’. Most of their means of survival – begging, street walking/sex work, sleeping in public spaces, cleaning compartments, etc – are treated as ‘illegal’. As it is, they face severe harassment at the hands of police. In the eyes of those who view the CCTV footage looking for ‘suspicious’ persons, it is these people who are likely to be profiled and harassed. Sue Bolton of the Socialist Alliance, Australia writes, “CCTV cameras will more likely be used to harass people who graffiti, or for racial profiling. In Melbourne’s CBD, CCTV cameras are used to identify and harass people who are begging. This is fundamentally wrong.”

The truth, as we know too well, is that the poor are not the source of danger for women. Women and children are most at risk from those they know and trust.

Yes, CCTVs can help identify perpetrators in some cases. But there too, one needs to be cautious. Explaining why CCTVs do not promote safety, Sue Bolton writes, “In the case of the Boston bombings, many people were wrongly identified as the perpetrator of that crime, with serious consequences for their lives and reputations.”

CCTVs involve huge expenditure, with disproportionately low results to show for it. There are many risks of CCTV footage being misused by the State (releasing footage to media or social media; racial and communal profiling; profiling of the poor and of sex workers; moral policing) or by individuals in the security forces itself (for snooping or stalking on individual women etc).

So, what measures should the Government spend on?

Sue Bolton writes about the efforts of the Moreland Council in Melbourne to install CCTV cameras following the murder of a woman Jill Maegher. The murder had been followed by massive protest marches – but protesters also rejected the move to install CCTV cameras.

Instead, the Socialist Alliance and feminist groups in Australia had suggested better ways to use the public funds in ways that would really help prevent gender violence and support victims, including better street lighting, restoring public phones, all-night public transport, a door-to-door community bus, programs to prevent family violence and an education campaign to combat sexist and racist stereotypes and culture.

In Delhi too, women’s groups who conducted a safety audit on December 16th 2014, have drawn up a detailed list of achievable measures that can actually help make streets safer. And women’s groups have also suggested detailed measures to prevent violence and help survivors (public education, as well as accessible crisis centres and shelters, for instance). To make train journeys safer for women, what is needed is to improve the sensitivity and accountability of the RPF as well as appointment of trained staff on all trains and stations, available at the press of a button, specifically to offer support and respond promptly and sensitively to women facing harassment and violence.

The Central Government, instead, has declared that it will only open rape crisis centres in States, not districts as earlier promised. A Government that is slashing allocation to rape crisis centres is spending on CCTVs in trains.

Public education and supporting survivors is what women’s groups do every day. It would make sense for Governments to talk to them, and learn from their insight, instead of offering surveillance as a panacea for ‘safety’.

Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and tweets at @kavita_krishnan

You must be to comment.
  1. Nanjesh

    The author is a maoist and an advocate of free sex. No wonder she is against a proposal which will help the populace. She is not the least bit concerned about the safety and security of the public as long as her so called ideals (which she learnt by reading the books of mao and marx) are upheld.

  2. sourabh

    i am sorry , i am not at all agree with this article

  3. Green Lantern

    If women stopped trying to be men, stayed at home, and fulfilled their God given role of serving their husbands, they would be much safer. In it lies spirituality and happiness and marital bliss.
    Love, Lantern.

    1. TheSeeker

      The stupidest comment I have ever come across. What you are saying is unfair to both men and women, Lantern, as household work is far easier than work men are obliged to do. Also, marriage isn’t anyone’s destined end, nor is it about ‘serving’ your husband! Please understand. Guess you’re not for equality.

    2. Ducard

      if there has to be equality, why is it that I must work, pay the bills, rush to buy groceries when I return exhausted from work, take my wife to the doctor, call the plumber, go to the petrol station, get my vehicle fixed, run all the errands, while my wife spends all her time either watching TV or shopping?

      Seeker, you need a path.

    3. The Joker

      Why so serious, lets put a smile on that face!

    4. Ducard

      If women expect men to earn a handsome salary, have a good car, a house, take them to parties and weekend movies, it’s not wrong for men to expect women to be good homemakers. Women don’t work or take easy jobs such as primary school teachers, earning very little compared to their husbands, and then save their money for fashionable clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, etc, while leaving the husband to contribute towards the household expenses – Is this fair? What happened to equality?

    5. The Joker

      A woman is not your maid to cook and clean …. just sayin’…. show her a little appreciation once in a while….

    6. Green Lantern

      The fact that men wake up early and work hard 10-12 hours a day and put a roof over the head and food on the table is fact enough that they appreciate their wives. Working half the day, everyday, is not easy. The stress, the deadlines, the exhaustion etc. And then men have to go home and put up with ungrateful, nagging and bitching wives.

    7. Ducard

      Women don’t clean everyday, and most households employ domestic help anyway. As for cooking, it is an enjoyable activity, not a source of oppression.

    8. TheSeeker

      Ducard, you want wives to stay at home, then you complain about what they do at home? Perhaps your wife should get a job or atleast learn how to drive to do those errands.
      Green Lantern, exaggerating much? Household work is much, much easier compared to going to office. Even without a maid, housewives have ample amount of time for going to kitty parties, shopping, gossiping, dance classes, exercise and so on. Sure, decades ago it was a tough job, but this is post industrial revolution my friend. Half the advertisements you see on tv are about making a homemaker’s work easier, it will keep becoming easier as time progresses. Tell me, is such freedom fair to men?

    9. Ducard

      If you agree that work in the house is much easier, then what is the issue with women ‘serving’ men, especially if men toil in the office everyday to ‘serve’ women?

    10. Ducard

      Most women these days know how to drive, but a man must still run all the errands outside the house (after a whole day at work) because it is a ‘man’s job’, whereas the mere idea of a woman walking into the kitchen is ‘oppression’. If a woman does not cook and serve her husband, she isn’t worth marrying in the first place, because all men work full-time to serve their wives monetarily.

    11. Green Lantern

      Where is the exaggeration, buddy?

    12. TheSeeker

      Ducard: And why are you so against women working? This is how the patriarchal hold breaks in this society. It is better than mutual slavery. All women should work unless children are concerned, or other problems.
      Green Lantern: Sorry, I misread your comment.

    13. TempleTwins

      Ducard is a pro-mens rights leaning traditional conservative. He simply wishes we go back to the provider, housewife model. His views are misguided as many tradcons who simply wants to scapegoat feminism which is a symptom of a bigger issue: Gynocentrism. Most of the tradcons are gynocentric themselves, they push men under the bus to protect their women.

      A tradcon would say women are better with children and men must be providers and when a tradcon family court judge give default custody to the wives and order men to pay child support, they blame feminism, while they don’t see how their societal view is what put them in that provider, primary caregiver role for men and women.

      A tradcon would say women should be stay at home wives serving their husband by giving up their career and in 10 years time if the marriage come to end and if the guy is ordered to split his assets and pay alimony, they cry oppression. They cry that men are treated as ATMs and if they want a stay at home wife, their husbands would be ATMs anyway, so what is the point?

      Perhaps they feel that stay at home wives wouldn’t cheat on them, like those working women who flirt with other men, may be it is just insecurity talking, I’ve got bad news for you, until and unless you get to lock your wife in your basement, she is going to commit adultery if that is what she wants.

      So I don’t understand why sticking to this age old traditional provider, nurturer model helps men, it may help a lazy woman who want to be a societal freerider and tradcons must understand it is this model which paved way to feminism, she could sit on her ass all day and one fine she would cry oppression and spit on their husbands faces and take them to cleaners, learn from your mistakes.

    14. Ducard

      I don’t remember writing that women should not work. What I am against is the fact that women have a choice whereas men are forced to work, and along with a full-time job, men must also run all the errands while women get away with it, and then they whine about equality. Also, women earn much less than men do on average, so women should not complain about cooking, cleaning etc. And if they do, then women should be the ones getting the car fixed, paying the bills, buying groceries after they return exhausted from work, taking children to the doctor, calling the plumber, going to the petrol station, etc. Women want the best of both worlds, an easier life compared to men, less work, easier work, and equality without responsibility.

    15. TempleTwins

      If you’re simply venting out that women have more choices than men do, which is true and they shouldn’t have that choice, but saying women should stay at home or in asking whats wrong with serving men, you come as a person who seems to suggest the best option for a woman is to stay at home wife, which I disagree, men shouldn’t put up with a societal free-rider who would sit on her ass all day, she should be out working and bringing money on the table equally, in order to be treated as a equal.

    16. Ducard

      That is exactly my point, but it will never happen, because women want the best of both worlds, and are full of hypocrisy and double standards.

    17. swati srivastava

      Mr green lantern, last time i ask god whether i should get married or not. He got mad and said what i am talking about.He gave me intelligence and i want to ruin it by getting married and serving some atm machine.
      and Mr.ducard i understand what you are saying but the problem is half of the women who are unmarried are prostitutes and they take care of themselves and half of the women who are married only know how to spend money on shopping they don’t know anything else so how can you expect them to do any other work.

    18. Ducard

      We’ll have a conversation when women stop marrying men earning more than them, men richer than them, men who are ‘well-settled’.

    19. swati srivastava

      Mr ducard Well unmarried women work as prostitute which i think not a very highly paid job. So whoever they marry he will be earning more than her.And men have education, time to work on his dream and gather money but women they spent their whole day prostituting and then spend that money on cosmetics and clothes. So what you are saying is not possible.

    20. TempleTwins

      Men should stop marrying women just so they can have sex, or because of their baby making abilities, I advice men to go their own way instead of marrying but if they want to, they should marry a woman who is earning same as them and are equally qualified. Hypergamy would end if men stopped marrying women for their biology, men should demand more from a woman and stop encouraging them to be stay at home housewives. Kavita Krishnan is a bigot who is overtly gynocentric and solipsistic in her arguments. CCTVs can be helpful in a lot of ways, in several instances it had shown how easily some women falsely claim molestation and CCTVs showed otherwise.

    21. Ducard

      “…they should marry a woman who is earning same as them and are equally qualified.”

      That is not possible, since women will not marry someone who is their equal. All women desire men who are on a higher social ladder, a better financial position, and a hefty bank account.

    22. Green Lantern

      “Men should stop marrying women just so they can have sex…”

      You must be kidding me. Do women not desire sex?

    23. Ducard

      A man is a woman’s dildo, porter, driver, ATM, and servant, who must run all errands outside the home even after a full day at work.

    24. TempleTwins

      That is not possible, since women will not marry someone who is their equal.

      Men should be this determined too, the trouble is men sell themselves so less in the marriage market. If she’s not earning as much then don’t marry her.

      You must be kidding me. Do women not desire sex?
      Women desire sex too but they also desire a man who can earn, so I am advising men to desire a woman who is financially capable too, men shouldn’t marry for the sake of sex alone, aim higher.

  4. Ducard

    Stay at home. Be safe.

  5. Lata Jha

    If staying home could prevent rape, there would be no rapes by uncles, brothers and goddamn fathers in this country. And if women were only looking for husbands richer and better settled than them, the MCP would have a lot less to worry about.
    I feel bad for the men part of this thread. Seems like they completely missed the point of sensitised education. God bless them.

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