12/12/2014 7:31 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Women in public spaces, Uber unsafe

The government in its hurry to demonstrate its earnestness not only banned Uber for negligence but other app based cab services as well, in turn rendering thousands of taxi drivers jobless, including the honest ones who did their job sincerely.

Women from the Delhi police force, undergo martial arts training at an institute in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. The cadets will undergo rigorous training for up to three years and will then impart training to other policewomen who will be deployed in sensitive zones of Delhi to prevent eve teasing and other crimes against women. Tuesday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.(AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

There's something about Delhi December that brings out the beast in certain men. Especially at nightfall, when the air becomes chilly, the roads desolate, the city gets enveloped in fog, giving men with criminal intent a cloak of invisibility. In a country where everybody's business is everybody else's business, for some strange reason, when we see a fellow citizen in distress, we drive a little faster, look the other way with a 'tennu-kee-mennu-kee' nonchalance.

The Uber Cab incident was yet another glaring example of how unsafe our women are. Only this time the city happened to be Delhi. Too bad that a few chose to take 'what else can you expect from the rape capital of India' stance. The thing is, cities do not rape, people do. Not all men, but certain rotten specimens who use their out-of-control libido to teach women a lesson! Too bad that all Indian men, including the ones who go out of their way to make us feel safe and cherished get tarnished in the process.

We may go hoarse shouting from rooftops that modern women are independent beings who don't need men to look out for them but the fact remains that a woman on her own is easy target unless she's walking around with a Kalashnikov in her hand.

But does it mean we ask our girls to pursue their dreams from home because they might be sexually exploited at their workplaces? Do we stop sending our children to school out of fear of assault by sexual predators? Do we adopt a Khap like attitude and insist they be married off early to keep them safe? Of course, we don't, yet all of us inadvertently end up telling our girls to stay within their limits. Despite telling our girls to conquer the world without fear stalking their minds, we refuse to leave them alone with manservants, male relatives, warn them against staying out late and if they do, make sure they have someone to chaperone them home. We teach our girls to live in fear or put up with consequences.

With a police to people ratio: 3 cops for every VIP but just 1 for 761 commoners, we have no option but to rely on God and our good fortune to be safe.

Every time a girl on her way back from a movie gets brutally gang-raped by men out to have fun, or a girl returning from a late night party gets raped by a serial offender, our fears get magnified. Parents get even more paranoid and forbid their daughters from taking up night shifts and staying out late with friends or traveling solo.

I am no different. Post the Nirbhaya incident I spent sleepless nights worrying about my daughter, torturing myself with what ifs. We all felt the iron rod go through us. We all felt Jyoti Singh Pandey's helplessness and rage as she lay on the road with her friend - bleeding and naked.

With the introduction of Radio cab services that came with the assurance of GPS enabled vehicles, trustworthy drivers, it was like a lifeline for so many of us travelling on our own, forced to stay out late or coming back from the airport at an unearthly hour. With their affordable and reliable services, we thought that we'd no longer have to rely on male friends and relatives or stand on the road for hours, waiting for a benevolent autowallah or an over-crowded bus to drop us home to safety.

Yet, all it required was one rapist driver to snatch away our new found safety net. This was one of the best options for women who'd slogged hard enough to be able to afford a taxi and avoid sweaty strangers in buses, rubbing themselves against their bodies. It took one sordid night to open a can of worms -- how easy it is to get a character certificate from the police despite being a serial rapist, how casually it takes public safety when it forgoes doorstep verification of the applicant's address. It was shocking to discover that any taxi operator, any driver can choose to be part of a cab network we had trusted for so long. All you need is a car to attach yourself with the cab company.

In reality, most app based cab services are simply cab booking services without actually having any driver or taxis on its rolls.

The government in its hurry to demonstrate its earnestness not only banned Uber for negligence but other app based cab services as well, in turn rendering thousands of taxi drivers jobless, including the honest ones who did their job sincerely. It's sickening to see all political parties including women representatives using this instance as a leverage to point accusatory fingers at each other rather than address the core issue of women's safety.

Will they also ban the Transport Authority that has yet to implement the government directive to have all vehicles GPS enabled? Will they ban Political Parties that happily give tickets to rape accused? Will they ban baby girls from being born because they are root cause of evil?

You can ban tight jeans, forbid women from carrying mobiles, ask the court to declare actresses and item girls as prostitutes. But till you enforce the many laws created for safety of women, think of rape as galti that's meant to be forgiven, women in India will never be safe. Rape is not just a women's problem. It's all that's wrong with our social fabric.

We are back to square one, saying no to night shifts, thinking twice before we say yes to late night party, hoping that a male friend will be chivalrous enough to drop us home. Yet again, crime against a woman will be used as one more excuse to curtail her freedom.

Maybe if the National Commission for Women was an apolitical body which in turn could join forces with the Judiciary and the Police to enforce guidelines and not bans for making the city safer for women, we could still hope for a positive change.