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India orders panic buttons for women installed on buses

New law is part of measures taken in response to 2012 gang rape in New Delhi that triggered global condemnation.

India is fitting panic buttons and other emergency devices on buses across the country, in response to a deadly 2012 gang rape in New Delhi that triggered global condemnation and widespread protests in the country.

The measure, which was passed by parliament to prevent sexual violence, became law on Thursday.

The monitoring devices, which also include close-circuit cameras and vehicle tracking systems, are already installed in new buses. Old buses will be equipped with the devices in phases. 

READ MORE: India gang rapist freed despite petition 

When a panic button is pressed, an emergency message will be sent to a police control room, where officers can monitor live footage of the bus interior.

A pilot project is already under way in India's Rajasthan state, where 10 luxury and 10 regular buses have been fitted with the emergency devices.

According to government data obtained by media, there were an estimated 1,676,500 registered public and private buses in India as of 2012.

Last month, the communication ministry issued a different regulation requiring all mobile phones sold in the country from 2017 to include a panic button. From 2018, phones will also have to include GPS navigation systems.

'Patriarchal social values'

Campaigners said that while the new measures are good in theory, results will depend on the implementation of laws protecting women.

Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that instead of addressing the real issue, the new law will only serve to "monitor women in the name of protection and safety. 

"India is a country with patriarchal social values and thinking," Raja said. "So, we don't consider women as equal citizens."

Raja said there are already a number of laws protecting women, but the implementation is "not happening".

'Watershed moment'

In December 2012, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh was gang-raped by several men at the back seat of a bus in the nation's capital.

The medical student died of her injuries in a hospital in Singapore two weeks after the assault.

The death of the victim triggered protests across the country, and around the world.

Indian authorities responded to the incident by fast-tracking tougher laws against sex crimes.

Sehjo Singh, of the anti-poverty group ActionAid India, said the gang-rape incident was a "watershed moment" in Indian society, with more women now openly talking about sexual harassment and violence. 

"I think that was the point after which there were attempts by the government to address violence against women," Singh said.

She also stressed that what is needed is follow-up action, not just new laws. 

"If I press the panic button, what happens after? This is very important," she said.

"What the government needs to do is restore the faith of the people. So far, our experience is that new mechanisms and institutions are created, but there is no follow-up."

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 32,077 cases of rape - on average more than one per hour - were reported in India in 2015.

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