The Bangalore City Police and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike have joined forces to create 50 “safety zones”, ostensibly to help women in times of distress.
The Deccan Herald reports that “vulnerable locations like slums, bus stops and markets” will be the first areas to be transformed into safety zones. They will have bright lighting, CCTV cameras, panic buttons, and a “loud speaker/PA system with a control unit linked to police control room”, and the system will in turn have power backup for two hours with a UPS.
Never mind that market places and bus stops should always have had bright lighting. This new plan means that slums in Bangalore are set to be totally surveilled residential units equipped with loud speaker systems controlled by the local police. Could there be a more dystopian plan, and all for the help of women in “distress”? Could you imagine the residents of an upper class urban housing society being subject to this kind of blaring intrusion and surveillance on their lives?
It gets weirder. While reports say that the CCTV cameras will only turn on when a woman presses the panic button (upon which police will also send a car zooming to the location), it feels hard to believe that the State, and especially the police, would pass up the opportunity to surveil slums and any other public spaces that they can. It’s not even a plan that the police really try to hide, given that they periodically announce their intention to increase surveillance whenever the issue of women’s safety is brought up.
Intriguingly, this comes at the same time as Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi rejecting the idea of CCTV cameras in public buses being set up with money from the Nirbhaya fund given to various states. Of course, she was less concerned with government surveillance on citizens under the guise of protecting women, and said instead that “harassment of women happens when they are standing, not sitting, in the bus”, and that CCTV cameras were easy to locate and dismantle.
Each one of Bangalore’s little safety zones (or surveillance pods) will cost Rs 9.94 lakh to set up, with a five year annual maintenance contract, which also means that someone inside or close to the government gets to profit from the deal of maintaining these zones every five years. All for the women, you see.