Uber doesn't have the greatest reputation in the transportation business, but most of the time, its bad press comes from its unsavory marketing tactics and nasty wars with companies like Lyft. This time, however, the allegations are much more serious — an Uber driver in India has been arrested after allegedly raping a female passenger, and threatening to kill her by ramming a rod into her stomach if she went to the police. This harrowing tale evokes disturbing images of the violent 2012 rape of a young woman that involved an iron rod, and is a cruel reminder of the progress that has yet to be made when it comes to women's rights and women's safety in India. It also casts significant doubt upon Uber as a safe method of transportation, particularly in India where the absence of a 24-hour metro service makes Uber the dominant presence in the business at night.
On the evening of December 5, a 26-year-old financial executive called an Uber to take her home after having dinner at a restaurant. According to police reports, she fell asleep in the car, and when she awoke, found herself in an unfrequented part of New Delhi, and was subsequently raped and beaten by her driver. The woman told police that her assailant warned her of repercussions if she were to go to the police, then dropped her off near her home before abandoning the vehicle.
Police have since arrested the driver, 32-year-old Shiv Kumar Yadav, in his hometown of Uttar Pradesh, 90 miles from India's capital. Madhur Verma, the deputy commissioner of the police, told reporters that a medical examination showed signs that the woman have endured "fierce sexual assault and rape." While Yadav will certainly be prosecuted for the heinous alleged crime, Verma also noted that Uber is being held responsible for the events of Friday evening as well. "Every violation by Uber will be evaluated and we will go for legal recourse," the commissioner said,
Uber, which is responsible for running background checks on its drivers as well as installing a GPS system in their cars, is now coming under fire for failing to adequately protect its passengers, this time with absolutely disastrous consequences. Despite Uber spokeswoman Evelyn Tay's claims that "safety is Uber's highest priority and in India," and that the company works "with licensed driver-partners to provide a safe transportation option" along with "accountability and traceability of all trips that occur on the Uber platform," something seems to have gone horribly wrong on December 5th.
For one, it seems that police were only able to find the alleged perpetrator because the woman had to foresight to take a photo of the car's license plate as he sped away. Verma told reporters, "She was alert and smart enough to get a picture of the cab with the number plate on her mobile." Uber has responded to the controversy by ensuring everyone that they are cooperating with Indian police, saying on their blog, "Our thoughts are with the victim of this terrible crime, and we are working with the police as they investigate. We will assist them in any way we can."
Uber has also noted that they've suspended the driver, and have given police "all relevant details" pertaining to the case, including driver, vehicle and trip information. Still, Verma believes that the company may face both civil and criminal charges for negligence. According to Delhi Special Commissioner Deepak Mishra, police's "initial investigations have revealed shortcomings of the private cab company which didn't have GPS installed in its cabs and the staff wasn't verified." Uber has vehemently denied these claims, insisting that every trip made on the platform is traceable.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau's data from 2013, Delhi had the greatest instance of recorded rape in the country, earning it the ugly nickname of the "rape capital" of India. Antra Khurana, a 30-year-old researcher, told Quartz after learning of the Uber rape,
The incident is scary and yet again shows the mentality that most men seem to have towards women. The city’s apathy towards molestation and rape is appalling. A ride to your home should not leave you scarred for the rest of your life.
Nikita, a 33-year-old journalist, expressed similar sentiments,
The fear psychosis that grips Indian woman has intensified in the two years following the Dec. 16 gang rape. As a woman living in Delhi who works, goes out, has to travel for her work, I can tell you I am constantly looking over my shoulder...When the rapist can threaten the girl with an iron rod specifically citing Dec. 16, it shows he is aware of the magnitude of that crime but still thinks he can get away with it.
Uber, which claims to offer the "safest rides in the world" by "setting the strictest safety standards possible" has come under fire for its driver screening process before, even in the United States. After Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, branded Uber as a sexist and misogynistic company, writing, "I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety" in an article, Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael suggested "digging up dirt" on such reporters with the nerve to criticize the company. According to reports, Michael threatened the spend "a million dollars" on investigators who could look into "your personal lives, your families," to run their own smear campaigns. Yikes.
Still, Uber has expanded enormously, and is now in 11 cities throughout India. But with these latest allegations, the company may finally be forced to deal with its demons, and actually focus on protecting its passengers rather than raising its revenue.
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