NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - A villager in southwestern India has developed the country's first online mapping platform that documents the multitude of abuses, rapes and murders committed daily against women there, to awaken people to the extent and horrors of such crimes.
Despite strong laws, girls and women in largely patriarchal India face a barrage of threats – including rape, dowry-related murder, forced marriage, domestic violence and human trafficking.
Construction engineer and former software developer Shemeer Padinzjharedil, 29, said he was shocked, and inspired, by a poll last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which rated India as the fourth most dangerous place for women in the world.
"When I read the poll, I thought 'Who are these people? They aren't even from India. How can people from outside make such statements?'" Shemeer told TrustLaw by phone from his home in the village of Thiruvizhamkunnu, in the coastal state of Kerala.
"I was so angry and thought 'I will prove them wrong.' But after research, I found that it really is true. It's just that the Indian media is not portraying it with as much seriousness."
With a degree in civil engineering and years of experience working as a software developer in India's IT hub of Bangalore, Shemeer used his skills to develop maps4aid (www.maps4aid.com) – a website mapping crimes by location and type.
The young man, who makes a living constructing houses in Kerala's Palakkad district and helping his father farm, says the idea is not just about statistics, but also about exposing the horrific abuses Indian women endure.
"There are lots of news reports about crimes against women, but there really is nowhere where they are documented. The stories just get archived and the woman or girl just becomes a statistic, a number, that matters to no one," he said.
"On maps4aid, not only do you see the statistic, but you can read the stories of the crime which really helps people understand the terrible things that happen to our women."
According to U.N. Women, one third of Indian women aged between 15 and 49 years old have experienced physical violence and about one in 10 have experienced sexual violence.
Shemeer said he verifies and documents an average of nine cases every day and has so far mapped a total of 1,000 news reports since he started this as his pet project in September.
Headlines include "Female foetus stuffed in polythene bag," "Court slaps life imprisonment on monster dad for raping daughter," "Manhunt launched for youth who raped 2-year-old girl," "Denied booze money, youth sets fire to mother," "Woman poisoned to death by in-laws for dowry."
Shemeer said the most common crime which he comes across is rape, with around 80 percent of the rapes being committed against minors. Women being harassed or murdered for dowry, by the family they married into, are the next most frequent crimes.
"I would say what I have mapped is just a small drop in the ocean,” he said, adding that most cases are not even reported due to the shame and stigma that victims fear even from their own families.
Shemeer, who was not really interested in women's issues before, says it has been a huge learning curve but is glad to be doing something to raise awareness, even though he has few resources and has to run the platform from his village.
"For the Indian girl, it starts when she is in the womb where she risks being aborted. When she is born, they abuse and rape her. When she grows, they force her into marriage where she is harassed and possibly killed for dowry," he said.
"When you look at the bigger picture, it's a huge achievement for a girl in India to survive to adulthood at all."
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)