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Unsafe spaces for women

 MPost |  2016-05-09 22:45:44.0  |  New Delhi

Fortunately, the police have arrested the accused. In response, taxi aggregator Ola has also terminated the driver from its platform. Before one dwells any further on the subject, it is imperative to note that the driver has not been convicted of any crime yet. The woman, who identified herself as a language translator, told police that she had booked the cab from Gurgaon and during the journey the cab driver allegedly kissed her. Late last year, a district court in the national capital sentenced former Uber cab driver Shiv Kumar Yadav to life imprisonment for raping a female passenger. 

The incident generated serious controversy. Following the outrage, there was a nationwide debate on women’s safety on app-based services like Ola, Uber, and Meru. These firms claimed to provide absolute security on account of running checks on their drivers and tracking the cabs. Last year’s incident prompted the Delhi government to take stern action against Uber and several other web-based taxi companies for failing to carry out adequate background checks on drivers. In a desperate bid to wrest back its credibility among Indian consumers, Uber had added a “panic button” and cab tracking features to its tax-summoning app earlier this year. The fine print on their websites makes it categorically clear that these app-based companies are not liable for any harm that you would suffer by riding in their cabs. Despite official statements, a local court in Frankfurt, Germany, made it abundantly clear last year that Uber should be considered “a participant in any respective violation committed by the driver”.

The success of app-based cab services among young professional women in the national capital is based on the convenience and safety such services provides. These apps enable young professional women to travel from one point to another at any time of the day.  However, unlike a ticket booking company for flights and trains, Uber delivers its services to individual customers in essentially isolated spaces. In trains and passenger planes, the customer is surrounded by other passengers. But cabs are usually occupied by a single occupant. The safety of its customer needs to be paramount importance, and such apps must conduct thorough background checks on the drivers it employs. The rape last year made it abundantly clear that no through background checks were done on the driver, as investigations by the Delhi police found that the perpetrator was involved in a previous case of sexual assault. One could argue that Uber is entering into a contract with a driver, who the Delhi transport and police authorities feel is fit to ferry passengers across the city. However, considering the pathetic state of our public records, it should have been incumbent upon Uber to conduct further checks. This incident should allow us to scrutinise these app-based services and establish workable standards of service and care.

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