The controversial taxi company Uber has come under fire recently after a 26-year-old woman was raped after using the smartphone application to book a taxi home in New Delhi, India.
This is the second controversy surrounding the company this year, following widespread protests by local taxi drivers in both Europe and the United States. The company was subsequently prevented from operating in Brussels, Belgium, and faces fines of up to €10, 000 for offering fairs to drivers who do not possess an official taxi licence. India, however, is the first country that has banned Uber from operating in a city following a rape accusation.
Following the incident, the victim was able to note down the number plate and take a photo of the car as it drove away; she then took the evidence to the New Delhi police force. Police found that the driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, had been previously arrested on allegations of sexual assault in the past, yet was still employed by Uber.
The company’s safety and background check regulations have been brought into question following the New Delhi incident. Madder Verma, the Deputy Commissioner of the Delhi police announced “every violation by Uber will be evaluated and we will go for legal recourse,” explaining that Indian police would seek legal advice before insisting on a criminal or civil case.
Special Commissioner of the New Delhi police force, Kuldeep Singh Gangar, declared that in the meantime the Transport Department has officially prohibited all activities relating to and providing any taxi service from www.Uber.com.
Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, released the following statement on Uber’s blog on Sunday 7 December in response to the incident:
“What happened over the weekend in New Delhi is horrific. Our entire team’s hearts go out to the victim of this despicable crime. We will do everything, I repeat, everything to help bring this perpetrator to justice and to support the victim and her family in her recovery. We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs. We will also partner closely with the groups who are leading the way on women’s safety here in New Delhi and around the country and invest in technology advances to help make New Delhi a safer city for women.”
The rape eerily echoes that of Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012, when the 23-year-old intern was beaten and gang-raped on a private bus by its driver and all other passengers, except her male-friend who was also beaten. Miss. Pandey’s fatal injuries led to her death two weeks later and triggered mass riots across India. Both incidents reinforce the need for safer transport for women in a capital that records high sexual assault crimes. In October this year, a poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found India to be the fourth most dangerous place in the world for a woman to take public transport. The Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, announced to parliament that there were four cases minimum of rape on a daily basis in the capital.
What is clear is a need for a different, more effective approach to women’s safety in India. The highest number of rapes in 2013 was recorded in New Delhi, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Beforehand, although recorded as smaller figures, police believe there were just as many rapes that took place, if not more, as in 2013, but women were too scared to come forward to officially report the crimes. Following the 2012 gang-rape incident, New Delhi police have noticed a rise in reported sexual assault crimes, which they attribute to growing public awareness and woman empowerment in the country.
The San Francisco-based company has raised investment totalling at $40bn, allowing future expansion into high-growth markets in emerging powers like India. The company should use a significant portion of such investments to improve its safety regulations and assure the thorough background checks of its employees it claims to execute are carried out. As a global company, it must take responsibility for its global expansion and assure that all of its drivers across the world assure the safety of not only women, but men and children too, to prevent future sexual assaults.
Photo credits: Bruno Corpet