27-year-old Shraddha Walkar's friends were unable to reach her over text or call. A couple of months ago she was still available on Instagram but nobody had heard from her since July 2022.
On Saturday, 28-year-old Aftab Amin Poonawala was arrested for allegedly killing his partner Shraddha. The police have told the media that Aftab killed her in May, cut up her body into 35 pieces, stored it in a fridge and then dumped it in Delhi's Mehrauli jungle over several days.
Aftab Poonawala met Shraddha Walkar on Bumble three years ago. Both came to Delhi from Mumbai and started living together. Until she was dead.
The grisly details of the crime came to light after Shraddha's father Vikash Madan Walkar, a resident of Maharashtra's Palghar, lodged a missing person complaint with the Mumbai Police, six months after the murder took place.
While the police are still investigating the murder case, police sources told Indian Express that Aftab brought a Bumble date to his rented flat in south Delhi's Mehrauli while Shraddha's body parts were still stuffed in the fridge.
The Bumble Connection
The police are planning to get in touch with Bumble, a dating app that was founded in 2014 with the idea that the safety of women is of utmost importance.
In a survey conducted among women in India, Bumble reported that 83 per cent of women in India have faced online harassment of some sort and one of three of these women had to endure it weekly.
The police are investigating if any of the dates that Aftab had brought home had any connection with Shraddha's death. However, it is also concerning to imagine that Poonawalla was actively using dating apps, after ruthlessly executing his partner.
An ABC report from 2020 found that sexual predators and abusers exploited dating apps to find their victims. Hundreds of women ABC spoke to reported experiencing harassment on dating apps, and a dozen of them had reported a sexual offence. But despite all the complaints, only less than a quarter of these women had received a response from the app, in this case, it was largely Tinder. The apps, the report mentioned, never inform the complainant what steps will or have been taken against the person they have reported.
What happens when someone wants to report a profile on Bumble? Or on other dating apps? How safe is dating apps when repeat sexual offenders, convicts, and abusers continue to use the platforms? What happens if you feel threatened while on a date you met through Bumble? How safe is a dating app user online and offline?
Bumble has told NDTV, "We will continue to follow closely and remain available to law enforcement should they request our support."
Do Reporting Mechanisms On Dating Apps Work?
In India, 31 million people use dating apps. It is not surprising that only 33% of them are women.
Despite the growing market of dating apps, there has not been much enthusiasm for making the place safer for women and other marginal identity users.
In an attempt to make the platform safer, most dating apps have a verification process. However, it is never made compulsory turning them into in a breeding ground for fake profiles. Dating apps allow users to report profiles of their potential matches if they come across as fake, spam or scammer, or if the profile has inappropriate content, or belongs to an underage, if someone is in danger and/or due to their offline behaviour.
On Bumble and Hinge, if one is to select 'offline behaviour' then the user is further asked to identify if they are reporting the account owing to a bad experience on a date, physical violence or if they have a criminal history.
Users receive auto-generated messages that read - "We'll let you know whether or not an action was taken on your report via a notification within the app, but due to privacy reasons, we usually can't give further details. If you have any concerns or feel distressed, you can always reach out to our support team here."
Almost all the women Decode spoke to who had at some point reported a profile said that they never got any follow-up on what actions were taken against the user they reported.
The reporting procedure also nowhere reflects the timeline of response and lacks clarity about the grievance redressal output. "Even the helpful resources and preparation for safety IRL are all just paper tiger tips and post facto support mechanisms for those who may be in trouble. Even the Get Help From Bumble is simply a page to report and share a screenshot on the application", said Malavika Rajkumar, a legal associate with IT For Change, a Bengaluru-based NGO that work towards digital justice.
Debdatta Nag, a 26-year-old electronics engineer in Odisha, tells Decode about the time she had reported her friend's ex-boyfriend on dating apps- Hinge and Bumble. "My friend's ex had a history of emotionally and physically abusing women, so I reported him on both these apps," she said. After reporting his profile, she received an auto-generated message acknowledging her effort in keeping the platform clean. Both the dating apps promised to investigate.
"However, a week back when I opened one of these dating apps, I saw his profile again. I think by now I have reported him a dozen times on both Bumble and Hinge but I am amazed at how nothing ever happens," she said.
On the question of 'Will I be able to find out what happens to the person I reported?', Bumble notes on its website: "We'll let you know whether or not action was taken on your report via a notification within the app, but due to privacy reasons, we usually can't give further details."
Emergency Features On Dating Apps: The Need Of The Hour
Most women users say that dating apps have little to no concern about their safety on and off the platforms.
Dating apps usually have a guide in place on the dos and don'ts. Some of them are: "go to a public place for your first date, arrange your transport to and from the date, if you are drinking, keep an eye on your drink, listen to your gut". However, none of them have an emergency safety feature that would automatically link them to the nearest friend, family member, or police station in case of grave danger.
"A long time back the Delhi Police came up with a panic button app called 'Himmat' but it was not effective. Then the police came up with another app in less than six months called 'One Touch Away'. Dating applications that have the resources and money can look at some effective emergency tools and learn from the mistakes made by previous emergency tools. However, this would mean effective engagement with investigation authorities on a real-time basis like Uber did in the US with their emergency button which integrated with RapidSOS' Emergency APIs and makes trip information (car's make, model, license plate, and requester's name) and real-time location updates available to 911 first responders", Rajkumar told Decode.
Safe dating platforms, she said, should have an emergency panic button like that in Uber, for real-life situations.
In January 2020, Tinder announced its integration with Noonlight, a personal safety app. This integration will allow its US-based users to access an SOS-like feature through Noonlight's Timeline feature, which will allow them to share details about who they are meeting, where and when, with the ability to easily and discreetly trigger emergency services in case they feel uncomfortable or sense a threat to their lives.
A similar feature, though still in the pilot stage, has been introduced by Bumble in collaboration with Watchful, a digital experience analysis startup, in January this year, that gives its US based users access to an emergency "SOS" one-touch button users can hit to call the police in the case of an unpleasant encounter.
However, despite having a large user base in India, none of these features has been made available to Indian users to date.