Just as we were wondering if all the safety measures announced since the fatal gangrape of a 23-year-old two years ago have made the Capital any safer for women, horror played out on Delhi’s roads yet again.
On Friday, a woman was allegedly raped by a taxi driver who she hired through Uber, an internationally popular app-based taxi booking service. Police said the cab driver in question was engaged by the company without any background check or police verification.
Typically, the Friday rape has triggered a fresh debate, focusing on the safety of women taking privately-run cabs. There is a pattern in the way Delhi — its government, police, private agencies — react to crimes such as these. We question regulations and enforcement only when a tragedy hits. Then, we let the issues slide under the radar till the next jolt.
For instance, the kaalipeeli taxis had been operating in Delhi for decades but it was not until 2004 when an Australian passenger was raped and killed, their safety aspects were questioned.
While not many trusted these taxis for a late-night ride, especially if one was a woman travelling alone, the unsuspecting Australian tourist hired one for Karol Bagh from the pre-paid booth at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Instead, she was taken to a deserted field nearby, robbed, raped and killed by the taxi driver and his accomplice.
For those who can’t recall, this was the case which reformed the taxi booking system at the airport. Traffic cops were posted at the airport, recording details of every taxi, passenger and the destination he or she was headed for.
Similarly, it was not until the Dhaula Kuan rape case of 2010, the government began to focus on safety of women working late hours. The Business Process Outsourcing boom had long happened and women were working late shifts not just in call centres, but in banks, malls, travel agencies, beauty parlours and many other facilities that had extended their work hours to feed the city’s 24/7 needs. But it never occurred to the authorities that employers were duty-bound to ensure that women employees got a safe drop home.
In November 2010, a 30-yearold call centre employee, minutes after being dropped on road by her cab, was dragged into a car trailing her, and gang-raped by the five men at gunpoint. The Dhaula Kuan case led to implementation of the rule that all establishments employing women after 8 pm had to drop them at their doorstep after the night shift, and a guard or a male employee had to be present in the cab at all times.
The initial probe into Friday’s rape tells us that private cab business in Delhi is still a grey area. Permit holders under the government’s economy taxi scheme can either run a taxi themselves or get associated with private cab services. The drivers they employ have to have the government’s public service vehicle badge, which it issues after getting their antecedents checked.
But app-based services focus on agglomerating drivers. One is not sure if the drivers they register carry legit papers. As it turns out, even the government doesn’t follow up because it has handed the charge to private companies.
On the back foot now, the government will surely launch a drive to regulate the operations of private cabs in Delhi. There will be knee-jerk official reactions and promises of no such oversight in the future. Forget thinking ahead to anticipate the challenges of the changing times, it seems nothing, not even a string of brutal rapes, can shake the government out of this reactive mode.
Most of the post-crime measures announced in the past are nothing but ensuring that breach of existing laws did not go unchecked. For governance’s sake, these are anyway supposed to be routine enforcement drives meant to thwart crime.
Instead, Delhi’s women must keep suffering horribly so that the authorities can keep re-launching these drives that lose steam soon after every tragedy. It’s only three days since the Friday’s rape.
How many days before we start our silent countdown to the next horrific crime?