In 2012, the high profile Nirbhaya rape case made our nation question women’s safety in public transportation. Back then, the state responded by cancelling over 2,500 permits of contract carriages and chartered buses due to fake address registration. Two years later, the average Delhi woman was feeling safer due to the onslaught of cab services such as Uber Taxi, Ola Cabs, and Taxi For Sure. I personally felt more secure traveling around the city with quick availability of taxis at affordable rates. It eliminated the wait on dark, empty streets and instilled a sense of security by assuring a safe driver and car arriving to take you home.
However, December 5th, 2014, changed all notions for women’s safety in the city’s capital. The spine-chilling news that a 27-year-old woman was raped by an Uber Taxi driver made citizens raise their voices in indignation. Similar to 2012, the state machinery responded by blacklisting and banning the radio taxi service for hiring the cab driver without the mandatory police verification. Approximately 80,000 taxis were pulled off the roads.
But can we really pin the entire blame on Uber?
As statistics show, rape cases have been rising since 2012. There has been a steep rise of 10.5 cases per 1 lakh women in the last year. Similarly, overall crimes against women have also seen a sharp rise in 2013. Even if the rise is attributed to increased awareness on the issue since the Nirbhaya incident, the number of reported cases still stand at a shameful count.
1. Rapes are reported, but justice eludes
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau 2012 report, the current conviction rate of rape in India is a meagre 24.21%.
As statistics reveal, the conviction rate has only declined in past four years. The extremely low conviction rate only gives confidence for repeat offenders to carry out more attacks without any fear of law. According to the NCRB 2013 report, 95,731 rape cases are pending trial and only 5,101 accused were convicted, whereas 13,703 accused were acquitted.
2. No records to fall back on
The lack of nationaldatabases of criminal records comes out as a severe fault on the part of the government and police. While Uber failed to do even a preliminary check on the driver, there could be many other such sexual offenders driving you to and from home who were subjected to identity checks and still managed to keep their crimes hidden.
A 2010 news report mentions a study by Swarnchetan, an NGO dealing with rape cases, which showed that nearly 70% of rape-accused inmates in jails were repeat offenders. The fact that there is no registry of repeat sex offenders makes it a near impossibility to identify them, which allows them to enter public spaces and offend again.
3. Earmarked funds remain unused and futile
The Nirbhaya Fund scheme started by the UPA II government after the brutal December 16, 2012, rape incident still remains unused. The Rs. 1,000 crore funds largely remain unspent, as no policies have been formed to utilize the fund. The Union Budget’s allocation to the cause of women’s safety was also a mere Rs. 150 crores, whereas Rs. 200 crores was allotted for creation for a leviathan statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat.
While Uber has to be held accountable for its cheating methods on background checking and lack on information on driver and GPS systems, a more pressing concern stems from the fact that the Delhi Police and state government are so unaware about the technical operations of such taxi services. Claiming to be technological start-ups, such companies are flouting what few security norms exist. The fact that the Delhi Police was unable to locate Uber office until installing the app and asking an Uber driver to take them there clearly shows how drastic measures need to be taken to keep the police force abreast with the transportation services running in the area.
The Nirbhaya case is considered to be the turning point from where the issue of women’s safety rose to the forefront. Yet what we see is a passive indifference. Until the Uber taxi rape case, no attention was being paid to the utilization of the Fund.
Has our government been reduced to a mere crisis responder rather than an active machinery to enable safety in public spaces?
Are banning private services like Uber taxi actually going to make our cities safer for women or is there a larger need for consistent improvement in our governance and judiciary to create safer environment?