Shyam Chaurasia’s invention looks like it comes straight from of a spy movie: Attached to a lipstick canister or a small purse, the gadget can emit a loud bang to scare off attackers.
The aspiring Indian inventor came up with his invention as a way to weaponize women’s accessories, from purses to sandals, and help them defend themselves against sexual harassment and potential assailants.
Chaurasia, 28, a staff member at a technical institute in the northern city of Varanasi, is nowadays doing demonstrations with the products, which have a gun that fires blanks built into them.
“If a woman is in trouble, she can press a button on the lipstick gun that will trigger an explosion-like sound, stunning the attacker. It will simultaneously send a distress signal to the state emergency number,” Chaurasia tells dpa by phone.
The devices have chargeable batteries and are connected to the user’s mobile phone through BlueTooth.
The blast, which Chaurasia says can be heard a kilometre away, will also alert people nearby, who could rush to help the victim.
While the lipstick, purse and shoe guns resemble spy gadgets from James Bond films, they aren’t designed to be lethal, Chaurasia says.
“It’s basically fitting an additional small barrel to the normal lipstick cover, in a purse or sole of sandal,” he adds.
In another city, Chandigarh, students at a private university designed a device with a similar purpose in November: the Queen Belt.
It looks like an ordinary belt, but has an electronic circuit, mobile SIM card and GPS. If anyone tries to forcefully open the belt, the system automatically sends a message to family members and police, along with transmitting the victim’s location via the GPS system.
Despite stricter laws and measures to increase security since the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012, a high number of such crimes continue to be reported in India. According to the latest government data available, 33,356 women and girls were raped in India in 2018.
With police failing to check such crimes, some Indian states have even turned to gurus and religious leaders to carry out spiritual campaigns and deliver sermons and discourses to curb such crimes.
Chaurasia says he was inspired to develop devices for the safety of women in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape.
“These weaponized accessories are particularly meant for women who are not well-off. The gadget costs between 600 rupees (about 8.50 dollars) to 1,000 rupees. But it is not available for sale on the market yet. My work will be successful once women start using the device,” he says.
Chaurasia asserts the gadget is safe to use and says he will soon move to get a patent for it.
Raghvendra Singh, a police officer in the emergency services department, says Chaurasia has been invited to the regional capital, Lucknow, to give a demonstration of his device.
“It appears to be a useful device, we have to see if it can be integrated with our emergency number. Of course, safety tests of the device will also be carried out,” says Singh.
Indian women who have tried out Chaurasia’s device have welcomed it.
“It is convenient to use and creates a scare with its explosion. When you take it out, no one will suspect, because it looks like a lipstick,” Shefali Rai, a student, tells IANS news agency.
However, women rights activist Brinda Adige says such gadgets are not a solution. Gender discrimination, sexism and misogyny in India’s traditional patriarchal society are the root cause behind sexual violence and crimes, and they need to be addressed.
“Despite protests and shock over such crimes, little has changed in our society since 2012. Instead of empowering women, I’m afraid such gadgets will only help the state [brush off] women’s security and put the onus on them, telling them, ‘Here is this gun, you take care of yourself.'”
Chaurasia defends his invention, asserting he is not trying to spread fear but empower women.
“There is an urgent need for such a device in today’s environment because nothing seems to deter such heinous crimes. I want that every time a woman opens her purse to apply lipstick, it should strike terror in the heart of potential criminals,” he says.