Updated: December 10, 2014 12:05:12 am
She could’ve been me. Along with thousands of other women set free by Uber and similar services, I see myself in the victim of yet another rape in this city of mine. The night she was assaulted, like her, I took a taxi — an Uber — after a Friday night post-work visit to a bar. I was accompanied by a couple of friends, this time, but would have thought nothing of making the trip alone. It isn’t so much that I was unaware of the risks of relying on a third party to take me home, but radio cab services like Uber and Ola, with their promise of geolocation, offered a relatively safe means of transport — crucially, one that allowed me to access the nocturnal city on my whims and terms, without having to depend on a male friend or family member to ferry me around or suffer the guilt of keeping my parents awake and anxious while I drove myself. This case rips away whatever sense of security I had, revealing it to be a mere illusion.
But the bitter truth is this: when the shock of betrayal fades, I, and many, many other women stuck for better options to navigate this city after dark, will make the trade-off; assess the risk of falling victim to Delhi’s notorious woman problem and find it acceptable, because what else can you do? Public transport is worse. To indulge the intense paranoia that has settled into your bones over years of socialisation, you’ll perhaps even take more pointless precautions and add a few notes to your don’t-get-raped manual — let a friend know where you are, ensure that your phone is charged, maybe note down the taxi’s licence plate — but ultimately, this will become yet another chip on your shoulder, another reason to be some strange combination of wary, resigned, brusque and combative while continuing to go about your business. When you grow up in Delhi, you learn to be numb to stares, leers and jeers, even the occasional grope; just walking down the road is a fraught exercise, so what’s one more thing on the list?
And that’s why it is comforting to load all of this pain and resentment on to Uber — it allows us to cling to our illusions a bit longer. Uber is a convenient target — a disruptive, arrogant, upstart foreign company that has had many run-ins with regulators and may or may not have contravened taxi licensing laws. If it was Uber’s fault, then we don’t have to face, yet again, the dispiriting, exhausting reality of how endemic sexual violence is in this city, this country. If only Uber had obeyed the law and conducted background checks or had a GPS installed in the car and not the phone, we want desperately to believe, we wouldn’t be forced to confront the fact that no set of rules and no amount of oversight or surveillance can fix this problem, which is tragically embedded in the very marrow of our society, in what we teach our children, the way we raise our boys. Just as the December 16, 2012 gangrape — and how ironic and disheartening that another rape should shake the nation only days before that tragedy’s second anniversary — was an unequivocal rebuttal to the victim-blamers who invariably find fault in the conduct and character of the woman who was sexually assaulted, from her clothes to her companions or lack thereof to the time of night and her choice of beverage, there is precious little in this case that can be held up as an “if only”, outside of totally curtailing a woman’s freedom of movement. (That, too, is no real answer. Or haven’t you heard? More than 90 per cent of rapes in Delhi are committed by men known by the victim. Over 80 per cent occur in homes. For a woman, there is no such thing as a “safe” space.)
This doesn’t, of course, stop us from trying to chase the quick-fix. The genuine outpouring of emotions driving the response to this case — anger, bitterness, thirst for vengeance and frustration — is fuelled, most of all, by shame. The shame of what we’ve allowed, what we continue to allow, our men to do to women, the violence they visit upon their bodies. The guilt of how little has changed, two years after an outraged public demanded answers and solutions from its government. We want now to take all of this shame and guilt and dump it on Uber, just as we bayed for the blood of those responsible for the brutal, vicious violation of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a Delhi bus, and for a hurried, stringent, law whose severity would deter such ghastly crimes in future. (And how has that worked out?) We embraced the short-term “solution”, responded to the clamour to do something, anything, by giving ourselves this new law. Now we’ll ban cabs, insist on GPS, turn to technology to solve this problem, though rapes will continue to happen, in private and public spaces, constricting women’s freedoms a bit more each time. If we can vilify Uber, we can avoid facing the enormity and, let’s admit it, the futility of trying to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in the capital. It’s a darn sight more emotionally satisfying than engaging in the long, arduous task of addressing this rape culture and educating our children. We can live with ourselves. We can move on. At least until the next rape.
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