Can Drones be the Krishna to protect women in India?

Clayton Christensen, the leading management thinker, beautifully connected the role of religion with democracy recently. He argued that the reason why democracy works is because most of the people choose to obey law most of the time and that religion has played an important role in inculcating values as well as the fear that someone is watching from above. But many men in India don’t seem to have the fear. A country that has a rich cultural heritage and that practiced some of the highest social virtues like non-violence is presenting a different kind of image through the increasing rape incidents in recent years.

The horrific rape and murder of a young woman in Kerala is the latest among the many violent, sexual crimes against women in recent years in India. As I was writing this post, I saw a news article where a 23 year old Belgian woman was molested by a radio taxi driver in Delhi. In 2014, two girls were brutally raped and were found hanging in a tree in a village in the Badaun District of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. This rape is not a one-off incident in India – On the night of 16 December 2012, a 23 year old paramedic was brutally assaulted and gang raped by six men in a moving bus in South Delhi and thrown out of the vehicle with her male friend. She later died in a Singapore hospital after two weeks. The incident sparked nationwide protests and had been widely covered in the international media as well. It has even extended to children getting raped – a 5 year old girl was raped in Delhi and several such incidents involving children were in the news over the last few years.


India dramatically tightened its laws on sexual crimes with a package of tough measures, after the gruesome 2012 incident, that imposed much stricter penalties for a range of crimes with one of the most significant adjustments to its laws protecting women. However, these tough measures haven’t really brought down the rape crimes in India. A US report on human right violations released in 2015 cites rape as the fastest growing crime in India. The data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that there is a 200% increase in rapes over the last decade and also, shows a 35% marked increase in rape incidents after 2012 which infers that there is either a mockery of the so called tough measures since 2012 or that the new laws have enabled more people to come and report these issues more than ever before.

Even the above data doesn’t present the actual reality on the ground as the number of cases reported is far less than the actual numbers. Because of social stigma and various other social reasons, it is believed that 1 in 100 cases actually get reported. Of course, a systematic study is required and we need to encourage initiatives like ‘I break my silence’ organized by the Chandigarh Hub of the Global Shapers Community that educate school girls to come and speak about sexual crimes openly. A holistic approach is required to end gender based violence which includes educating kids from school, tightening laws, increasing policing, making women speak about crimes, providing proper psychological counselling for rape victims etc. but we need something to protect women before these crimes happen.

At a time, when the government led by PM Narendra Modi, is leaving no stone unturned to build Brand India and attract investors through initiatives like Make in India, Swachh Bharat, Rural electrification etc., this problem is the one that grabs the headlines in global media but this problem which hasn’t been given sufficient attention it deserves. It is not only a central government issue as several state governments do their best to attract investors to develop their state and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu is one of those CMs who are very actively pursuing opportunities to develop their respective states.

In India, a country of 1.2 billion people, neither is there enough police to ensure law adherence in every corner of the country nor is a strong fear that used to exist in the minds of the people that someone is watching from above. It reminds of a famous scene from the great Indian epic, Mahabharata which is described in the exhibit.


“Below is an extract from an important chapter in Mahabharata, the famous Indian epic, in the version written by Rajaji .`The Pandavas lost everything including their wife Draupadi to their rivals Kauravas in a game of dice. From the Kauravas, Duhsasana made ready to seize Draupadi’s clothes by force. All earthly aid had failed, and in the anguish of utter helplessness, she implored divine mercy and succour: 

“O Lord of the World,” she wailed, “God whom I adore and trust, abandon me not in this dire plight. You are my sole refuge. Protect me.” And she fainted away. Then,  as the wicked Duhsasana started his shameful work of pulling at Panchali’s robes, and good men shuddered and averted their eyes, even then, in the mercy of God a miracle occurred.

 In vain, Duhsasana toiled to strip off her garments, for as he pulled off each, ever fresh garments were seen to clothe her body, and soon a great heap of resplendent clothes was piled up before the assembly till Duhsasana desisted and sat down in sheer fatigue. The assembly trembled at this marvel and good men praised God Krishna who saved Draupadi and wept.”

 The exhibit on the Indian epic Mahabharata highlights the need for a figure like Krishna to protect our women. Could technology be our Krishna? God is anywhere and everywhere; Wireless signals are anywhere and everywhere. A few emerging technologies like the Drone cameras combined with the power of wireless technologies give hope that they could be the Krishna who can show up whenever there is a crime against women and also, instill the fear that someone is watching from above.

 Never before has all the technology elements required to solve this problem has been so optimally aligned. Mobile phone and internet penetration are at an all-time high. Smart phone penetration is at an all-time high even in developing countries, thanks to disruptors, who have innovated to bring the cost down. Imaging capabilities have improved significantly even in the mobile phones and the emergence of drone cameras are a testimony to advancements in this space. Another crucial advancement is the compactness of the devices thanks to the telecom industry and the interaction between different devices. With a drone’s eye and bird like movement, a Drone has a camera’ eye’, a bird’s ‘movement’, a mobile controlled ‘awareness’ and a wireless presence, technology could indeed be the Krishna.

 With amazing advancements in technology, the drones are becoming smaller in size, cheaper in cost, and ease of use. The telecom industry has helped in a big way through their innovations in form and size that led to the drone manufacturers effectively leveraging this for their own needs.  Also, open source programs have also reduced the cost of running the auto pilot software which was previously provided by the aviation industry at a high cost. Drones are already successfully used in a variety of ways in several industries and there are several highly ambitious initiatives that are in R & D phase.

Agriculture:  Relatively cheap drones with advanced sensors and camera imaging capabilities are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage by exposing everything from irrigation problems to soil variation and even pest and fungal infestations that aren’t apparent at eye level. Second, airborne cameras can take multispectral images, to create a view of the crop that highlights differences between healthy and distressed plants in a way that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Finally, a drone can survey a crop every week, every day, or even every hour, combined to create a time-series animation, that imagery can show changes in the crop, revealing trouble spots or opportunities for better crop management.

Logistics: Amazon is experimenting with Prime Air — a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

Healthcare: In Rwanda, a startup called Zipline will use a fleet of long-distance drones to airdrop precious blood and medicines to remote medical facilities across Rwanda. Zipline is working with the Rwandan government to create a network of delivery drones that will ferry medical supplies across the country. The network will be capable of making 50 to 150 deliveries per day, using a fleet of 15 aircraft, each with twin electric motors and an almost eight-foot wingspan. The unmanned planes will use GPS to navigate, and will airdrop supplies before returning to the landing strip from which they launched.

Film Industry: In the movie industry, drones do an exceptional job in capturing aerial shots and even crane shots at a very reasonable cost. Even Indian films are using Drone cameras to film some of their complex action sequences. One of the recent examples is the train stunt sequence in the Ajith starrer, Veeram, a Tamil Movie. The scene was praised by critics for the quality of the cinematography and the suspense it created in the minds of the audience.

A recent product innovation called Nixie, a wearable drone camera that can fly gives a new interesting possibility to tackle the problem. Nixie is a small camera you wear like a watch, but with straps that unfold, turning it into a flying quadcopter. Nixie will then launch skywards from your wrist, where its swivelling camera can shoot video of you from the air. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfzqUsGMHE0

It offers several functionalities: In boomerang mode it will automatically return to you after shooting your video. In “follow me” mode it will follow you as you move around, creating a hands-free video of your exploits. In “Panorama mode” takes aerial photos in a 360° arc. “Hover mode” gives any filmmaker easy access to impromptu jib shots.

While these functionalities are very helpful to amateur athletes and adventure sports lovers, these functionalities could also help to address the biggest pain points of tourists when they travel to cities where there is a high level of gender based crimes. This could be applied for other stakeholders like working women and even children going to school.

Nixie and similar drone cameras seem to be the Krishna that we are desperately looking for all these years.

A smart ecosystem like the one below could be created by orchestrating a network of stakeholders who are connected to each other through a central platform which is connected to the end-user who is equipped with a smartphone and Nixie wearable drone.


How does the eco-system look like?

Multi-Lingual Call Center: A multi lingual call-center will be the heart of the eco-system and will serve as a platform that connects the end user with the various actors who play the role of preventing crimes on the ground and protecting the victim after a crime had happened. The call-center will serve the following roles:

  • Information Exchange: Tourists get into trouble as they talk to strangers on the road for simple information like location of a tourist spot, restaurant etc or inside hotels.
  • Tourist Guide: The call center could be equipped with good information about a tourist spot so that tourists can reach out to the call enter who can serve them like an audio guide and in turn, help tourists to avoid talking to criminals, who disguise themselves as guides in some cases.
  • Virtual Security: With the ‘Follow me’ mode, the call center may be able to scan the surroundings for potential warning signs in the vicinity and the drone can make a loud alarm sound in case of an emergency.

 Authorized tourist guides, ex- defence servicemen along with multi-lingual graduates from schools like CEIFL, Hyderabad and JNU, Delhi could be considered to work in the call center.For the translation, a new technologycalled Pilot is emerging which allows two people to wear ear pieces and speak in a language that will be translated on both sides but it is still early in the evolution but could be a worthwhile addition in the future.

 Security Network: A security network can be formed that can immediately rush to the venue in case, if there was a perceived danger indicated by the end user to the call user. Even though it is not practical to expect to have policeman cover every square kilometer of the city, it is very important to find creative ways to increase the security footprint across a city. This could be achieved through the following stakeholders –

  • A Rapid Action Police team: It is important to still create a Rapid Action Police (RAP) team along with a control center since the police are the best trained to deal with crime related emergencies
  • NCC Action team: A NCC Action Team (NAT) of NCC volunteers from colleges in a city could be assembled and trained. These teams could be provided a motor bike to rush to the emergency spot and we need to think through the policy changes required to ensure that these volunteers are sufficiently armed if they encounter violent gangs.
  • Network of ex-servicemen and Auto Drivers: Another important group who can be part of the security network are the ex-servicemen who can be paired up with a local auto rickshaw driver and these teams can be spread across the city. The ex-service men are well trained in the armed services and their experience plus judgment could prove to be quite handy.

With the rise of platform models like Uber, Airbnb, Ola Cabs and Oyo rooms, it is possible to learn best practices on hiring, training, retaining, certifying, monitoring and managing a network with these various actors.

Is it commercially Viable?

India attracted 8.07 million tourists and Delhi airport had a 27.6% share of all tourist arrivals in India which is approx. 2 million tourists.


With the growing tourism market across the country and also, the growing need for similar services for working women, kids and domestic tourists, this could be an interesting opportunity for public – private partnerships. Neither government alone nor private sector alone can create it on their own because of the complexities invoved and it requires the best of both public and private sectors.

Of course, for any new service, there are going to be huge technological hurdles along with policy & regulation challenges. Battery life of a smart phone and network coverage on the outskirts of a city  important are challenges that need to be sorted out.

Policy & Regulations are probably the next big hurdle in building an eco-system like the one described above. There are several challenges and a few of them are highlighted below

  1. Ensuring that the volunteers are provided arms training and also, ensuring that the volunteers have the same coverage like police & military in case of the death of a criminal or harasser during the relief operation
  2. Flying drones is banned as it poses serious security threats and hence, ensuring that it adheres to the security policy guidelines of the government is critical.
  3. Because of the privacy concerns caused by the filming, strong guidelines need to be in place to ensure that the images are captured, stored and processed in an extremely responsible manner in order not to violate any individual’s privacy
  4. In UK, the Telegraph reported that the number of near misses involving aircraft and drones has quadrupled in the past year. Ensuring that the airspace regulations are honoured is critical.

“Public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people’s appetite to fly them. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back,” said House of Lords UK Committee Chairman Baroness O’Cathain in Mar 2015.  There may be many more issues that we need to consider before finding the optimal policy levels but doing something is better is better than doing nothing. Also, there is no guarantee that even with the best co-ordination, a crime could happen and ensuring that there is understanding that this is not a 100% guaranteed solution is critical.

While strict regulations, safety concerns, and technical challenges make this drone enabled eco-system seem far-fetched at the moment, innovations like this through a public private partnerships could provide the much needed breakthrough for India to tackle this problem and put a strong footing in their growth story.

A drone enabled smart ecosystem could be the Krishna that women in India may be desperately looking for to protect them and remain independent.


Vijay Raju is the Deputy Head of the Global Shapers Community at the World Economic Forum. Vijay won a Mobile Monday (MoMo) elevator pitch contest in 2008 in Tokyo, Japan on the same topic when he was doing his MBA in Japan and his MBA thesis was also written on this topic. With the emergence of drone technologies, the possibilities are becoming endless and Vijay hopes that this article will inspire the emergence of a model that will put an end to the sexual violence that is inflicted on women in India.

Author Contacts: @vgthinks, vj.raju@hotmail.com,  www.vijayraju.com

 The views expressed are those of the author and does not represent the views of his employer

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