Will drones keep India's women safe from rape?

Officials in India are rolling out a drone surveillance program to crack down on rapes after fallout from an alleged rape by an Uber cab driver. Will it work? 

Tsering Topgyal /AP/File
India’s opposition Congress party’s women activists shout slogans during a protest after a woman was allegedly raped by a taxi driver in New Delhi, India, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. The Indian capital on Monday banned taxi-booking service Uber after a woman accused one of its drivers of raping her. Placard in center, in Hindi reads, "Delhi Area Women's Congress".

The alarming rate of rapes in India – including one allegedly by an Uber cab driver that sparked much debate last week – has prompted an unprecedented security move in New Delhi: The use of drones.

Police will employ mini drones to patrol the streets of the national capital in a sweeping effort to make the city's streets safer for women, The Times of India reported. Drones fitted with night vision thermal imaging cameras will help police patrol dark stretches and areas prone to crime.

The initiative will launch next month in the city's north district, where the highly contentious Uber rape case allegedly took place.

Each drone will hover at about 200 meters and monitor and three to four-kilometer area.

A senior police official told the Times each drone will be linked to a Quick Response Team, streaming video to a surveillance vehicle and enabling real-time monitoring and quick response. Video and images are also expected to be used as evidence in crime cases.

The drones will significantly enhance patrolling capabilities in a district that has been hampered by a manpower crunch.

"If we deploy a drone at all the entry routes of the district, we will be able to keep a tab of every vehicle entering the area. Once it's successful in north Delhi, it can be implemented in other areas as well," the official said.

Accusations that an Uber driver raped a woman in New Delhi raised anew questions about the company's driver screening process, but also renewed the country's concern over violence against women.

Last month, a man tortured and killed his daughter's alleged rapist, fearing justice would not be served, in a case that points to a lingering public distrust of India's judicial system even after two years of massive street protests – and reforms – aimed at reducing rape.

The death of a young Indian woman who was beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in December 2012 sent thousands to the streets in protest. Politicians vowed rape victims would no longer be shamed and the judicial system promised rapists would no longer be able to blame their victims.

Despite increased sentences for rape convictions, the 2013 rape of a 5-year-old girl led protesters to call for harsher penalties and some analysts to argue for critical police reform.

Tougher laws against rape, increased media focus on sexual violence, and new police units dedicated to helping women, suggested progress. But the brutal gang rape and hanging of two cousins in May "revealed the immense gulf that remains in India," and continue to fuel public outcry. The drones may introduce a new level of police oversight, but the effectiveness of the program is yet to be proven. 

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