In wake of Uber rape, women-only car services emerge in India

A Delhi court found an Uber driver guilty Tuesday of raping his passenger. But some Indian women have already taken the wheel into their own hands. 

AP Photo/Saurabh Das, file
Shiv Kumar Yadav, center, a driver from the international taxi-booking service Uber, is surrounded by police as he is brought out of a court in New Delhi, India, in December.The Delhi Court found an Uber driver guilty Tuesday of sexually assaulting a woman last December. The case raised anew questions of women's transportation safety in Delhi.

Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav was found guilty on Tuesday of raping a 26-year-old female passenger in Delhi last December. Some in India welcome the conviction as an indication of better enforcement of sexual assault laws. But some women in India have found a way to take matters into their own hands, literally.

Following a series of sexual assaults on women traveling alone in Delhi, a group of Indian women established a women-only taxi service called Sahkha (“friend”). Their motto: “Providing women the right to safe transportation.”

“Driving is just an excuse, what we’re really trying to do is break an image and provoke a change in mindsets towards women,” wrote Meena Vadeera, a co-founder of Sahkh with Nanatara Janardha. 

Like Uber, the app-based service provides transportation “for women, by women.”

The taxi-for-women-by-women trend is picking up momentum globally. In New York City, the company SheTaxis was launched last September. In Mumbai, a city measurably safer for women than Delhi, companies such as Priyadarshini Taxi, Women4women, and Viira Cabs offer similar services.

"When women earn, it goes for better education, and better healthcare for the family. It also gives them social recognition. It is important for woman-hood, for people to respect women-hood. More women on the road in Mumbai, the safer the city is for women,” wrote Susiie Shah, a women’s right advocate for Women4women.

After years of complacency, sexual assault has become a major political issue in India. In 2012, a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped and later died from injuries on a bus ride home with her boyfriend at 9 P.M. in Delhi. The incident caused international uproar, and led to the creation of a court in Delhi to deal specifically with sexual assault cases.

And last December, Uber came under fire after Uber driver Yadav was accused of sexually assaulting his passenger. Mr. Kumar was found guilty Tuesday morning by a special fast-track court in Delhi created to deal specially with rape cases. Kumar will be sentenced Friday.

In Boston, Mass., a former Uber driver was sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison this past Friday after raping a female passenger, adding to a growing list of Uber drivers accused of sexual assault. Well aware of the risk to its business, Uber is backing a petition to support legislation in Massachusetts intended to increase oversight and the safety record of ride-sharing companies. 

After the Kumar rape case, the Delhi government banned Uber and several other web-based taxi services, prompting the $41 billion company to make a public apology, stating: “We are sorry and deeply saddened by what happened.” Uber’s president in India, Amit Jain, promised it would improve safety measures – including stronger background checks and a safety button included in the app.

Although the Uber ban has been lifted in Delhi, many women say they still prefer Sahkha Cab.

“My office provides its female associates with Sahkha cab services at night.” Aayushi Agarwal, a Delhi-based lawyer, tells The Christian Science Monitor by email. “After a long day at work I feel mentally relaxed in a female-driven cab and usually doze off in the car without having to worry. I’m not comfortable traveling late at night, but if I do, I’m extremely cautious and usually inform a friend of my cab details. It will be good to have more cab services with women drivers operating in Delhi to make late night journeys for females a more peaceful experience.”

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