To say that fear of rape and street harassment limits the mobility of women in India is a massive understatement — according to a recent Times of India survey, 96% of Indian women feel unsafe after sunset in Delhi, and it's estimated that two women are raped every minute. Foreign women are beginning to avoid the country: following the increased media scrutiny of the nation's pervasive sexual violence after the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23 year old student, the number of female tourists has fallen 35%.
In attempt to provide a palliative for this, three engineering students have designed anti-rape inner wear, which they've named Society Harnessing Equipment (aptly, SHE). On contact, SHE sends an emergency text to India's emergency number as well as to the girl's parents. It also sends 3,800 kV of electricity into the assailant's groping hand. (SHE has been described by some media outlets as "anti-rape panties," which not only sounds disgusting but is also inaccurate — the shock circuit and pressure sensor are located in the bra, as the students found that "in attempt of rape or road-side eve-teasing… women are attacked first on their bosom").
The students' inspiration for creating the technology was a sense of abandonment and frustration with the slow legislative process. In their product's techpedia, they say, "[L]aw makers take ages to come up with just laws and even after that, women are unsafe." This is a depressingly accurate statement — the stricter law drafted after the horrific gang rape on December 16 has only just been put into effect, and, in the meantime, atrocious sexual assault has continued unmitigated and will likely continue largely unreported because of the social stigma.
While it's wonderful that a team of brilliant young students (two of whom are women!) are finding ways to help women feel more secure in public and empowering them to defend themselves in a small way, it's obvious that SHE is not a truly viable solution to India's rape problem. It addresses the symptoms, not the root of the issue — by putting the onus of not being raped on women, it legitimizes the cultural assumptions responsible for victim-blaming. The name of the product itself is very revealing: by implying that patriarchal society is something that needs to be harnessed, rather than something that must be changed, Social Harnessing Equipment insinuates that male sexual aggression is a given rather than a malignant social construct.