Uber case reignites women's fears 2 years after fatal gang-rape

This month’s case of a female passenger allegedly raped by an Uber taxi driver with a record of sexual attacks shows the country still has a long way to go.
Indian auto-rickshaw drivers attending a gender sensitisation training programme at a city transport department centre on the outskirts of New Delhi on December 12, 2014. The class aims to help the men 'respect and protect women' while plying the streets of New Delhi, dubbed India's rape capital. Rebecca Conway/AFP Photo
Indian auto-rickshaw drivers attending a gender sensitisation training programme at a city transport department centre on the outskirts of New Delhi on December 12, 2014. The class aims to help the men 'respect and protect women' while plying the streets of New Delhi, dubbed India's rape capital. Rebecca Conway/AFP Photo

NEW DELHI // The class of middle-aged, male rickshaw drivers obediently raised their hands and loudly pledged to “respect and protect women” while plying the streets of New Delhi, dubbed India’s rape capital.

“Do you know even whistling at a woman or staring at her is a crime?” trainer Namrata Sharan told 150 drivers at a compulsory “gender sensitisation” class this month, referring to actions that could be considered sexual harassment.

Much has changed in the two years since the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in Delhi that triggered international outrage.

Laws have been toughened to deter would-be rapists and initiatives introduced to educate men about respect and equal rights for women in the deeply patriarchal country.

But some say this month’s case of a female passenger allegedly raped by an Uber taxi driver with a record of sexual attacks shows the country still has a long way to go.

The Delhi bus attack “appeared to be a turning point”, said the father of the physiotherapy student, who died from her injuries after being brutally raped on December 16, 2012.

“The kind of protests that followed, laws that were changed – all this made us believe that things are changing. But it was just wishful thinking,” he said ahead of today’s anniversary.

“The city continues to be very unsafe as the Uber case shows.”

Women in Delhi who had come to rely on web and radio-based taxis are reassessing their safety after the case last week involving controversial US-based Uber.

With GPS technology, cheap and easy smartphone use and pledges of safety, taxi services had given women a sense of independence in recent years that they had not previously enjoyed. “For a few years there, we working women in Delhi were living in a mirage of safety provided by radio taxis,” TV journalist Sunetra Choudhury said in a blog last week.

“We all loved the idea that whenever we knew we’d be late, we could pay a professional group to arrive at our office, at our friend’s, at the bar, and take us safely where we needed to go.”

“The Uber rape has killed my urge to step out and explore my city.”

On Delhi’s streets, women spoke of their fear of taking public transport.

“Men will stare at you, touch you, grope you. You have to keep looking around all the time and just be safe,” said Sonam Bahri, a banking executive.

Others were angry that a global company like Uber had apparently failed to conduct proper background checks on its driver who allegedly raped the woman, in her mid-20s.

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The government has banned Uber from operating in the city following the case, while the driver remains in custody.

He is accused of obtaining a false police certificate which gave him a clean record despite being charged with molestation in 2003 and robbery and rape in 2013.

The number of reported attacks jumped across the country by 35.2 per cent to 33,707 in 2013 from the previous year, with Delhi recording more than any other city.

In the class for rickshaw drivers, run by the transport department and the non-profit Manas Foundation, there was a pin drop silence when pictures of the mass street protests that followed the 2012 case were shown.

“I felt so ashamed,” driver Vimal Das said as he collected a sign reading “This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women” which he plans to stick on his vehicle.

“How can men be so inhuman? I am going to leave behind my chauvinistic ways now. It’s only when I change my mindset I can expect society to change.”

* Agence France-Presse

Published: December 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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