By Ila Ananya
In February this year, police officials in Uttar Pradesh told The Hindustan Times that owners of mobile phone recharge shops had been selling women’s numbers to men. The men then started calling women — reportedly, 90 percent of complaints registered on their police helpline in the last four years have had to do with women being harassed over the phone.
Following this, Vodafone now has announced that they’re launching what they call the ‘Vodafone Sakhi Recharge’. It’s for prepaid customers in Haryana, which is supposed to help women and children recharge their phones without having to share their phone numbers with retailers.
How will this work? Customers are expected to send a toll free SMS ‘PRIVATE’ to 12604, following which they’ll receive a one-time password (OTP). They can then use this OTP to recharge their phone in retail stores — without giving the retailer their mobile number.
What had happened in Uttar Pradesh was that women’s numbers were being sold at between Rs 50 and Rs 500 — after the retailers had helped men to purchase SIM cards under fake identities, which the men then used to call and harass women. Surprisingly, the police then only booked the retailers for helping people buy SIMs under a fake identity, doing nothing about the men who were harassing women, or the store owners who were selling their numbers.
We’re all too familiar with how technology for women has only been used in terms of developing apps for women’s safety and nothing else. It’s possible to argue that Sakhi doesn’t really address the problem (what with police claiming that jails would “overflow” if every retailer selling women’s numbers were caught), and that it does continue to put the onus of safety on women, but it still seems like Sakhi is an interesting direction for a mobile phone company to respond to and go in.