A city court jailed for life on Tuesday a former driver for hail-a-ride service Uber, two weeks after he was convicted of raping a female passenger last year in a case that raised questions about women’s safety in Delhi and the viability of such taxi aggregators in India.
Apart from giving the maximum sentence for the offence, additional sessions judge Kaveri Baweja also slapped a fine of Rs 21,000 on Shiv Kumar Yadav for the rape and for causing hurt, kidnapping and criminal intimidation.
“Every woman needs to feel secure in her motherland,” the court said, maintaining that ensuring women’s security required dealing with crimes against them “with an iron hand”. “For the offence under section 376 (2)(m) convict (Yadav) is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment till his remaining natural life.”
Yadav drove the young woman to an isolated area and raped her after she booked a journey with Uber while returning home from a party in December.
The incident sparked nationwide outrage and led to Delhi banning Uber while it emerged that Yadav had several other serious criminal cases against his name, including one of rape in Uttar Pradesh, and he had falsified his references to land the job. The US-based company’s licence was restored by the city recently after it tightened its driver verification process.
After the court pronounced its order, Yadav’s wife broke down and refused to let go of her convicted husband. She collapsed onto a chair and after some time well-wishers calmed her down and took her outside.
“There can be no doubt that the convict in the present case, Shiv Kumar Yadav, committed the above stated heinous offence, not only against the rape survivor in this case, but also against the society at large,” the judge said, adding that Yadav had “endangered the life of the victim while committing rape upon her and his act demands imposition of the most severe punishment so that it acts as a deterrent and rebuilds the public confidence in the efficacy of law.”
Authorities fast-tracked the trial to meet growing public demand for speedy justice in such cases.
The court also instructed that the woman as well as Yadav’s family – comprising his father, mother, wife and three children— be adequately compensated.
Yadav, a resident of Mainpuri in UP, was seen being escorted out with tears in his eyes as he was closely followed by his two daughters and father. He was brought back in later to receive a copy of the court’s judgment.
During the hearing, special public prosecutor Atul Srivastava asked for the maximum punishment.
“Punishment is a collective cry of the society— this has to be uppermost in the mind,” he said.
He contended that Yadav had seven cases against his name and perhaps if he had been dealt with sternly by the law earlier, the December 5 incident would not have taken place.
“This is not the first time that this man has faced a criminal trial and that too for the same offence,” the prosecution said. “He’s faced these cases before, but there’s still no chance of improving this man.”
Defence counsel DK Misra countered by pointing out that Yadav had been acquitted in another rape case and he “hadn’t been produced in any of the other cases.”
Misra also told the court that Yadav’s father was over 75 years old and was collecting a schoolteacher’s pension while the family had no other breadwinner.
During the arguments, Yadav’s father, who had come with his daughter-in-law, brother and two granddaughters, was seen clasping his hands as if in prayer and murmuring.
Moved by the plight of the convict’s family, the court ordered Delhi Legal Services Authority to provide them with monetary aid.
India strengthened its laws to take on violence against women following the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a moving bus in the Capital three years ago that sparked street protests and nationwide outrage. But incidents of sexual assault have not declined significantly.
The country recorded 36,735 rape cases last year, with 2,096 of them in Delhi. However, experts say the numbers only reveal part of the grim situation as many incidents of sexual violence go unreported in India.
Yadav’s lawyer, who pleaded the judge for leniency, said his client would challenge the order in a higher court.