Almost two years to the day after the brutal gangrape of a young woman in a Delhi bus prompted an outpouring of anger and frustration that shook the political establishment and the nation, another sexual assault case made headlines in the national capital. This time the scene of the crime was a radio taxi, a means of travel that seems safe for the working woman, especially after dark, in a city notorious for its high incidence of crimes against women. Predictably, the demand for solutions has prompted the authorities to take recourse to the blunt instrument of a ban. The Delhi transport department has barred Uber, the service provider that hired the accused, from operating in the state. But serious questions remain, that Uber, and the state, must answer — the former, regarding its approach to the safety of its consumers, and the latter on its capacity to enforce regulations.
For a consumer-facing company, Uber’s failure to immediately provide the authorities with the driver’s information after a serious crime shows a cavalier disregard of its responsibilities. The company issued a statement two days after the incident, claiming that it was cooperating with the police. Reports indicate Uber’s Delhi staff was unresponsive; the statement by the company’s CEO on its blog was belated and appeared to be designed to dodge blame. Uber boasts of a stringent system of background checks for its drivers in the United States. It must answer now why it did not follow the same due diligence, and system of checks, in its operations in India. But the crime in Delhi also puts the state in the dock. If, as the transport department alleges, Uber does not have the required taxi-operating permits for Delhi, how was it allowed to ply thus far? How was it that the accused could pass off a forged police verification document?
The incident has deservedly touched off wide public outrage. But the general outpouring must not be allowed to drown out the specific demands for accountability. At stake is the creation of an enabling and safe environment for women in the city.