9.12.14

An Uber Rape?



On the night of Friday, December 5, a young executive called for a cab from Uber, the international company's Delhi branch, via its mobile app. Such services are convenient and make it easier for women to go out and travel alone.

As per reports, she left office for dinner and then a pub, where she had a couple of drinks. Once inside the cab, she is said to have dozed off. The driver Shiv Kumar Yadav drove her to a secluded area, beat her and then raped her.

He has been arrested; Uber has been prevented from operating in Delhi. And this has taken up much space. Why ban Uber, they ask? And they could well be asking, why ban the uber? In its very first report, Times of India referred to the woman's foreign education. Others are talking about her MNC job.

If you notice, there is an absence of ground activists in this rape case debate. Since the crime was committed by an Uber cabbie on a passenger, it is assumed the discussions ought to be exclusive. Society high flyers are on panel discussions because the media is catering to the advertisers.

While they outrage, they also act as a buffer for the company. Banning a cab service may not be the answer, but why expend so much primetime emotion over it? Are they spokespersons of Uber? Would they stand up for the local black-yellow cabs were they to be banned?

This poshness has resulted in an overemphasis on unsafe cities. Do note that, again, the suggestion is that such crimes only affect cities, and not small towns, villages and tribal areas. This cocoon of making cities safe tends to ignore the rest of India.

It is not surprising, therefore, that they use the Nirbhaya case as the yardstick. Nothing before that registers, or exists. This is the city that only cares about itself. The news show used the tag #DelhiShamedAgain. It ends up dehumanising the personal assault on the woman as well as men who are not rapists. This is of particular importance because it gives the residents another reason to decry immigration. The Bihari-UP migrants are blamed for shaming Delhi.

It also serves to take away the onus from the city to protect itself and creates the image of a helpless place being devoured by outsiders. There is the caste and the class divide, and then the rural/town and metro divide.

Strangely, it is the city person who raises morality questions: Why was she out alone at night? Why did she drink? Why did she take a cab? Why did she doze off? All these queries lead to the conclusion that a woman who does all of these or some is likely to be raped. Men who otherwise like to decide on how women should behave now empower them with the decision not to drink or go alone anywhere.

Social space is getting crowded. Women are part of the same crowd as men. This creates insecurity. Men are territorial about such space and according to them the gendered space will have to afford them an advantage.

It does not work like that anymore. I do not want to sound too cynical, but when men start protesting for women's rights it is also part of the dynamics of colonising.

The political establishment has mastered this, and masculinised it. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) protestors landed up outside the Home Minister's house. Uber had brought them there. Does anybody recall them ever raising the issue of the rape of political prisoners, including of their member Soni Sori when she was in Dantewada prison? BJP members are patting their backs on the early arrest of the rapist, as though delays are normal procedure. They are also pointing out that theirs is a new government and all the licences are from the old dispensation. What is worrying is that all this urgency is because Delhi is going to the polls. They don't want to suffer the way the Congress did for the 2012 incident. At the time the Congress was forced to act, too.

However, it is not only politicians who are political opportunists. There are kangaroo courts repeating again about castration and capital punishment for the rapist. They do not have any answers for what happens after that.

Yadav threatened the woman with a December 16 like assault. What lessons has anybody learnt? Did the protests, the media coverage, and government action make any difference to the way men have thought and acted in the many rape cases that have taken place in India, and not just the cities?

A day before this crime was committed, there was a report about an astrologer who predicted how women could be sexually abused according to their zodiac signs and offered remedies.

His predictions include age at which abuse would take place, location and by whom. He offered mantras for safety. This appeared in a newspaper; he has a show on TV. There was a Facebook page questioning him for encouraging superstition.

This is not only superstition. He is messing with women's lives as much as any criminal is. This sends out the message that women will be raped and abused. There is no room for a response from the women, except to recite some mantras.

Such charlatans and the media create paranoia instead of trying to alter the way people think and behave.

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