When travel is unsafe

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:15 pm IST

Published - December 11, 2014 01:18 am IST

December and Delhi have made news for the wrong reasons once again. It is for another instance of rape that underscores the lack of safety for women on the streets of the capital, especially those availing of some sort of transportation service. The failure of policing and regulatory regimes that are at the core of the latest incident — in which a 26-year-old woman was raped by a taxi driver with a long but suppressed history of sexual offences — once again demonstrates that the national outcry that followed the Delhi gangrape of December 2012 has been in vain. The government introduced amendments to criminal law to strengthen the mechanism to prosecute sexual offenders, and there have been subsequent instances of stringent punishment being awarded by trial courts in rape cases. However, authorities and systems continue to ignore the need for specific measures to improve women’s safety in public spaces. As in the case of the December 2012 incident, the latest instance reveals an appalling lack of visible policing in large parts of Delhi, a city of vast distances and many lonely stretches. There may be much less scope for opportunistic crimes against women if there is the fear that a police post, vehicle or check point is not far away, but this does not seem to be the case in the national capital where human predators seem to enjoy virtual impunity. It is common for an incident of crime to stretch for over half an hour without any intervention.

On the regulatory side, the lesson from the earlier crime — that a crackdown is needed on transport vehicles that ply without due licences and clearances in the capital — has obviously not been learnt. It has now occurred to the administration that web-based taxi-hailing services do not have regulations that govern them or licences to operate. Uber, which operates as an app that links a customer with one of thousands of cabs plying in the city, has been suddenly banned after it emerged that the offender in the present case is attached to it. The company clearly failed to exercise due diligence regarding the driver’s background as it seemed to have accepted an address and a certificate produced by him without further verification. At the same time, the incident raises questions about the need for a new set of regulations to cover web-based services that eschew physical assets in their business model. Fixing liability on such a service provider without allowing the entity to wriggle out of it by describing itself as an ‘aggregator’ rather than a provider is the current challenge. Taxi services offered under a brand imply a certain assurance of safety and reliability, and regulators need to devise systems to ensure that. Making available safer public transport to women at all times should be an urgent task for transport authorities.

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