Chennai-based women’s rights activist and lawyer Kirthi Jayakumar had quite a shocking experience that made her do something extraordinary. Sometime in May last year, she woke up to 31 missed calls and 16 messages from a friend, who lived in London. The friend was in a domestically abusive marriage. Her husband was physically abusive, would also isolate her everyday, and would spy on and monitor her, while she was at home too. She, somehow, managed to escape that day.
“She tried to reach out to me and other friends, but we couldn’t respond as we were all asleep then. She managed to get into a shelter with the help of a stranger, and eventually got in touch with her parents,” Kirthi recalls the incident, adding, “That is when I realised how tough it is for people in vulnerable situations to access information that will help them. So, I thought I should put together a few resources and develop a web page and an app that could help them.” And thus, Saahas, a one-stop app to find help for survivors of gender-based violence, was found.
Being an un-funded NGO that completely relies on its volunteers, Kirthi’s The Red Elephant Foundation had to figure out a way to make the app economical. “Every app developer I met demanded a basic charge and did not really realise the task at hand. That’s when I decided to learn coding myself. I cried through the process (laughs), but eventually managed to complete the app.” Saahas is now available on Google Play Store for Android users and will soon be available on the iOS platform on App Store.
The app has two types of target audiences — the survivor and the bystander. The app has a set of guidelines and a directory of information that spreads across 196 countries. Kirthi explains, “The guidance helps them identify what kind of problem they are going through. A survivor of domestic violence may not even be aware that she or he is going through it. The directory has info on emergency, police, legal, medical, education and employment help and also support from the embassy/consulate and refugee help too.”
For the bystander, who happens to witness gender-based violence, but is not sure how they can help, they can access information like police or medical helpline numbers and so on,” Kirthi adds.
A lot of effort has gone into the mapping of different organisations, as Manmeet Kaur, a volunteer explains, “We were looking for organisations in different countries, and I helped map the organisations from Egypt and Iran. We look for organisations that provide medical, legal, rehabilitation and so on. We went on to verify each and every one of them to check whether they are available for help through phone and e-mail. Every organisation know that they are listed on the app too. The guidelines are very practical, as in, we want the victim to stay safe and that is of utmost importance.”
As for feedback, Kirthi says that the web version of Saahas has been of help to over 2,000 people around the world! She adds, “And this is only those who have reported back to us. Saahas has been shared by UN Women and partner organisations around the world.” Here’s more power to Kirthi and her team for doing their small part in making victims feel safe and important.