Uber Driver Accused of Rape to India's Shame

Accusation rekindles worries that country does too little to protect women.

December 8, 2014, 2:12 PM
PHOTO: The Uber Technologies Inc. car service application is demonstrated for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in New York, Aug. 6, 2014.
The Uber Technologies Inc. car service application is demonstrated for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in New York, Aug. 6, 2014.
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

LONDON— -- Delhi is ashamed again. Two years after an Indian woman was gang raped while riding a bus, causing international outrage and sparking stricter penalties for perpetrators, a male taxi driver was arrested today on suspicion of raping a 27-year-old female passenger.

While some people continue to question India’s responsibility to protect its female citizens, others are now pointing fingers at Uber, the U.S. company for whom the driver, 32, was working.

Funded by major venture capital funds, including Google Ventures, and valued at $40 billion, Uber has received fierce criticism in several countries where established taxi companies say it is not operating legitimately.

In Germany, for example, a court ruling banned the mobile app service, saying it violates the Passenger Transportation Act because drivers do not have correct permits, are not properly insured and are not subject to checks.

Uber’s CEO issued a statement shortly after news reports of the alleged crime. “What happened over the week-end in New Delhi is horrific,” Travis Kalanick wrote in a written statement. “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.”

The company says it has provided Indian police with the driver’s name, age, photo, driver license detail, bank verified address, vehicle license, registration, insurance, state issued-driver permit, and trip details, including route and pick-up, drop-off locations. The suspect was arrested Sunday, 100 miles from the capital.

He appeared in court today and was remanded in custody for three days. Shortly thereafter, transport official Satish Mathur announced Uber was banned from operating in the capital, effective immediately.

“Safety is our number one priority,” an Uber spokesperson said in a written statement, “and in India, Uber is exclusively partners with registered for-hire drivers who have undergone the commercial licensing process, hold government issued-IDs, state-issued permits and carry full commercial insurance.”

But a statement from the Delhi Transport Department said the driver only had an India-wide permit, not a Delhi permit.

Quartz India reported that while Uber has a multistep screening process where a driver’s records are checked, drivers themselves say they do not go through a hiring process nor do they receive training.

After the gang rape in 2012, the Indian government rushed through new legislation, doubling prison terms for rape to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

Srishti Ahuja, 22, who works in fashion in New Delhi, told ABC News there has been no positive change since the 2012 rape case and says she is still scared to walk alone in the streets.

"We are not satisfied with today's decision to ban Uber," said Ahuja, "All we want is for mentalities to change, and for men to understand that rape is not OK.

"There should be better checks on drivers," she said, in reference to reports today that the alleged rapist had been charged for rape before and was released.

Meanwhile, dozens staged a protest today in Delhi over the new case of alleged rape, saying not enough had been done for the safety of women since the election of a new government six months ago.

A public debate on what to do about violence against women has been taking place on Twitter, now with the hashtag #delhishamedagain. Many, for example, are saying they would like CCTV to be installed in buses. Aam Aadmi, a center-left party, has published a 10-point agenda on women’s security on its Twitter account (see above).

This past month, two videos went viral featuring two sisters beating up men they said sexually assaulted them. A total of 1,221 rape cases have been reported since the election of Narendra Modi, according to a Tweet on the official Indian National Congress Party account.

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