A 21-year-old girl student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had allegedly been drugged and raped by a cab driver while she was returning from her friend’s house on Friday night. An FIR has been registered by the Police and a manhunt has been launched to nab the accused driver. But is that enough? The roads are still unsafe for women. According to the Police, the girl was allegedly offered something to drink by  the cab driver and she fell unconscious following which, he raped her. The girl is from western Uttar Pradesh and is pursuing a foreign language course in JNU.

If we dare to look at the statistics, a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2016 suggests a big jump in crimes against women in Delhi, which is notorious for being unsafe for women. A 2019 data shows that from 706 cases of rape in 2012, the number in 2018 stood at 2,135 an increase of 202%. When it comes to molestation, the numbers have increased from 727 in 2102 to 3,314 in 2018, a jump of 355%.

The total number of crimes against women recorded in the country jumped from 38,385 cases in 2014 to 41,761 cases in 2017. A significant amount of Delhi’s population feels the capital is not safe for women and children.

The total number of crimes against women recorded in the country jumped from 38,385 cases in 2014 to 41,761 cases in 2017. A significant amount of Delhi’s population feels the capital is not safe for women and children. Another survey conducted by Praja Foundation, an NGO, says across Delhi they have found that 40% of the respondents do not feel secure in Delhi whereas 50% feel that Delhi is not secure for women, children and senior citizens. 68% of the respondents who witnessed any crime and informed the police were not satisfied with the response of police officials.

What Had Actually Happened?

According to a senior police official, “The girl was found unconscious by locals in a park near IIT Delhi on Saturday morning. She was taken to Safdarjung hospital and was discharged after treatment. Later she returned to her hostel and narrated her ordeal to the JNU authorities. She was then taken to the police station for recording her statement and a case under appropriate sections was registered at Mandir Marg police station of New Delhi district and investigation has been taken up,” said a police official.

“The alleged incident has been reported after a gap of two days. During medical examination, no injury mark was found on the body of the victim. Apart from the delayed reporting the incident to police, there are also some other inconsistencies in the version which are being verified during investigation,” said the police official privy to investigation.

“Police teams are also scanning CCTV cameras in the area to nab the accused driver,” said the police official.

SheThePeople.TV spoke to women and men from diverse backgrounds to understand what worries them about cab rides. How safe do women feel in public transport? Why authorities are failing to invoke security and what measures can be taken?

It is fact that the popular App based cab Uber doesn’t have a human interface as part of their Customer Care support.  For Ola cabs, even though they have it, it takes forever to get an issue resolved.

System Matters

It is a fact that the popular App based cab Uber doesn’t have a human interface as part of their Customer Care support.  For Ola cabs, even though they have it, it takes forever to get an issue resolved. When in a dire situation, panic buttons installed in public transport don’t work. The Police are non-responsive for a majority of the time.

Dr Kalpana Viswanath, Co-Founder and CEO, Safetipin, raised some basic questions. “Instead of talking about what safety measures women could take the focus should be on what should be done so that women can travel safer. What should the institutions do? How should the authorities improve road safety? What measures should the public transport authorities take up to make the women feel safer? What responsibilities should the cab companies take to ensuring more safety for cab passengers especially women? What should the Police do?” she questioned. “Let’s not put the burden back on women. At the level of the institutions and authorities, we need a system that works. For example, the panic button that was instituted was an innovative idea but without a strong backend system to respond to the complaints on time is of no use. We need a strong team to patrol most unsafe roads all the time. The cab services have their own system but they are not the police. If there’s any problem private companies have limitations too. What we need is to insist on a system that works so that we can encourage more and more women to be able to be out in these public transport facilities without fearing for their lives. I really don’t believe in asking the question like what should women do, instead ask what authorities can do so that women can travel safer,” she added.

How Apps Are Faulty

Deepak Goel, Founder of the Janta App shared his view, “There are around 100-102 complaints per week getting posted on Ola’s official Facebook page which means around 14 complaints per day on an average. Approximately 15-17 complaints per hour gets tweeted on Uber India’s official Twitter account on a daily basis. Almost same stats go for Ola’s official Twitter account.”

Screenshot of the reviews appear on Janta App for your reference
Screenshot of the reviews appear on Janta App for your reference

He further added, “Uber really cares for customer service and security, but its biggest markets are USA and Europe. India is not a very important market for them. Ola does not prioritise customer safety anyway. Government knows that it is critical and will eventually enact rules to take care of riders, but it may take a couple of years.”

“At present, the entire onus lies on the riders to take care of their own safety,” claimed Goel who has taken on the responsibility to ensure and provide a little more safety to cab passengers especially women by building a Cab/Driver Review App. “Considering there are almost three million Uber/Ola trips each day, we can fix the situation today itself if riders start taking care of their own safety. And we need to take care of ourselves every single time! We shouldn’t wait for an accident to happen. We should always wear helmets or seat belts when we are driving our vehicles. Similarly, when you are riding an App Based Cab, it is important for every rider to do three things on every single trip — after you are assigned a driver, read reviews about the driver on the Janta App. For eg: If the driver is in the habit of speaking on the phone, request the driver to not use the phone while he drives you around. Always share your trip with at least one friend or family member of yours so that they get notified if you don’t reach your destination on time. And thirdly, spend a minute reviewing the driver’s behaviour and keep others safe. We don’t stop wearing helmets or seat belts if we haven’t met with an accident ten times in a row. Similarly, we need to do the above for every single trip that we take with an App Based Cab. It is for our own safety,” he explained.

“Though personally I feel it is wrong to put the onus of safety on women when we as a society should be making the world safe for everyone including women. However, we need to work protecting ourselves till such time that the world becomes safe for us,”

Society Is Not Safe, So What Should We Do?

To ease out the harassment faced by women, society should be making the world safe for everyone, thinks Dr A.L. Sharada, Director of Population First. “There are three aspects —One is considering unsafe conditions we ​​women need to be extra alert. For instance in one of the self-defence classes the trainer demonstrated how being alert could help us get out of a threatening situation, though not always. It was an eye opener for me. Each one of us has to go through these sessions. Though personally I feel it is wrong to put the onus of safety on women when we as a society should be making the world safe for everyone including women. However, we need to work on protecting ourselves till such time that the world becomes safe for us,” she claimed.

Further, adding her reaction to the JNU incident, she said, “Secondly, there should be more gender training programmes for all those interacting with public, particularly the cab drivers who have very stereotypical images of women travelling alone, travelling in the night, travelling with men or travelling after attending parties or drinking. Their misogynistic perceptions make them think that they are women of easy virtue and they can do what they want. I think the problem is particularly acute where there is an overlap of urban and rural and modern and traditional cultures. There is a need to bridge the gap. How do we do it? Is it possible to do it? Difficult question to answer. But we should keep the conversation going, constantly with every group and individual we come across. We should insist such trainings become part of the licencing process. It is also a fact that there is a reaction and resistance to the increasing aspirations and emancipation of women. Public spaces are still considered a male domain and women who breach it are seen as deserving such treatment. Sad but true.”

“Thirdly, each such incident should be reported to the authorities, should be reported by the media in a sensitive fashion without victim blaming. More importantly swift action as per the existing laws would be a better deterrent than a stringent law. How quickly do the police, judiciary and other authorities respond also determines how seriously the law is taken. There is an urgent need for sensitising such authorities,” she further added.

When asked about how technology can be a helping hand to solve the problem, she explained, “Finally, technology should be used effectively and optimally. Registration and verification of drivers and vehicles, CCTV cameras, panic buttons, live location tracking and many other technological solutions should be used to make travel safe for women. Fear of rape and assault should not limit our access to public spaces, public conveniences and public transport. We have a right over the day and night as well.”

“The companies need to do random checks to ensure that the drivers follow the right route and do not take detours.”

Lawyer Abha Singh, a renowned social activist, says, “The companies need to do random checks to ensure that the drivers follow the right route and do not take detours. Most of the drivers come from lower income groups and hence, are prone to a patriarchal mindset. Thus, they need thorough gender sensitisation.”

“Often the ​​perpetrators also get away because the victims wish to avoid the long judicial process at all cost. Therefore, there is a need for a stronger and speedier justice system. Delhi is termed as the ‘Rape Capital’. Why there are no Police patrol vans on the roads? What happened to the CCTV cameras that were promised after Nirbhaya case? It is the duty of police to prevent such heinous crime from happening. Poor conviction rate in rape cases also emboldens criminals and people with criminal mindset to commit rape and other sexual offences. Poor policing on the ground level has also led to such crimes,” she claimed.

The post-ride feedback that women give is an important tool used to weed out aggressive and unruly drivers and should not be ignored. This must also be scrutinised: Abha Singh

Disha Chopra, Travel Blogger and former Sports journalist says, “My mother would say, if you want to party, please party till 6 am at one place and then leave the party with all your friends only in the morning,” I would often wonder at my mother’s bizarre instruction which most of my friends found hilarious. But now as a parent who travels with her children, I understand exactly why mothers are right!”

According to her, the fact is, be it New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata or a small town — 500 million women across India are unsafe. And there’s only one reason for it, ‘No fear of the law’. An aspect that has multiple dimensions:

  • The Police is ineffective (in most cases)
  • Lodging that FIR with the Police is the biggest hurdle
  • Once Legal process begins, it will take decades before justice prevails (or not)
  • Punishment isn’t severe
  • Precedents haven’t been set that would prevent future cases of such a nature.

“While multi-national taxi companies are trying to organise the sector and make it more secure; they are still a long way off. Thorough verification needs to happen at the time driving licenses are being given, so that we don’t have maniacs driving around on our roads. And families too can sleep peacefully,” she concluded.

What’s your take?  Tell us in the comment section below.

Read More Stories By Ria Das

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.