On January 20th,2021, Lucknow Police Commissioner, D.K Thakur, announced at a workshop conducted at the Lucknow University, that Lucknow Police will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras to detect “women’s distress”.
The AI cameras would automatically click pictures of women in distress “on the basis of their facial expression” in public spaces, forcing police to take immediate action. The cameras would be set up on 200 hotspots across Lucknow, on the basis of the maximum movement of women and locations of maximum registered complaints.
The program, dubbed “Mission Shakti” takes pictures of women without their consent or without them even knowing and shares them with the police. It is intrusive and a breach of women’s privacy, to say the very least. Its main focus is to track and control the movements of women rather than taking appropriate action towards curbing violence against women.
They are also yet to define what women’s distress on the basis of facial expressions mean. As rightfully pointed out by Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel, Transparency and Right to Information, that it is not necessary that women are being harassed based solely on her facial expressions. It is very much a possibility that the woman is upset due to a completely different reason but how would the device understand that then?
This brings us to an important point; women would now need to be more careful with expressing distress (as the state defines it) out of the fear that it might activate a surveillance camera. Women have been, since their childhood, conditioned to not express their discomfort, anger or any other negative emotions and to live by the codes dictated by the patriarchal society and this program does not help with the conditioning. Instead, it adds more to the problem. Young girls and women would now be taught how to not express negative emotions, publicly and escape alerting the camera.
It also brings forth another major issue; stalking and tracking a woman’s movement. The underlying factor here is not women’s safety or protection; it is about controlling her movement. It is about the power dynamics which weighs heavily on the side of the state. This phenomenon is termed as ‘disciplinary power” by Michel Foucault. Foucault describes it as control through surveillance and monitoring the population as a means of asserting control over them.
This method can be described as psychological surveillance and controlling, by inducing the fear of being watched constantly. Prison, workplaces, hospitals, schools and even homes are being constantly monitored. The same idea is being used by the state to monitor the actions of the women in order to control them. It misplaces the blame on the victim and absolutely leaves the perpetrator out of the conversation.
This is not the first time that a measure as outrageous as this one has been brought forth. Very recently Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had introduced a new system where women would have to register themselves at the nearest police station whenever she steps out of her house. The police would then be tracking her based on the information she had to provide.
Though it is not clear if it would be a compulsory step or based on choice but either way it reinforces the same idea of monitoring and regulating a woman’s free movement. It further reinstates the age old notion of putting the onus of her safety on the woman, curbing her freedom for her own good and asserting that a woman should always be accompanied by a male member (of the family) for protection because we are incapable of protecting ourselves.
This reinstates the idea and mentality of victim-blaming. Along with that, it implies that only women can be victims of sexual harassment on streets. It does nothing to address (in fact erases) the reality that cis-gendered heterosexual men and people from the queer community are daily victims of violence and sexual harassment on streets.
It also fails to address that insignificant number of cases the perpetrators are known to the victims and major numbers of such cases take place in secluded and deserted areas and in homes.
In 2018, Thompsom Reuters Foundation released a study ranking India the most dangerous place in relation to women’s safety and atrocities against women, surpassing countries like Syria and Afghanistan. The report noted that crimes against women rose to a startling 83 percent from 2007 to 2016.
Every four hours a woman is raped in this country. In such a scenario, the Indian government/ state should be more focused on curbing harassment and not tracking and monitoring a woman every time she leaves her house.
Introducing sex education and educating young children about consent in schools, installing active cells in institutions to curb and address sexual harassment, educating and sensitizing law enforcers on how to address situations involving victims and survivors, more swift actions on behalf of the police, investing in rapid law processes involving sexual harassment and abuse can be some of the ideas that the state can opt to prevent both macro and micro aggressions against women and gender minorities.
Constantly tracking women and their every movement would not help prevent crimes against them and will further victimize and marginalize them under the garb of protection.