The R Word

Delhi is in uproar, after all crimes against women have highlighted Delhi to be amongst the most unsafe places for a woman to exist, there are women rights activists taking out rallies, coming on television, the Ruling Party and the opposition party and other parties are busy in political mudslinging, while we as a citizen still stay unsafe, one of our favourite taxi cab facilitator – UBER, and following that a lot of other facilitators have been shut down in a knee jerk reaction, people are talking about the incident everywhere in the country, the word UBER is no longer cool.

I have been on a long holiday and got to know of the event when I was about to leave Pondicherry to come to bangalore to attend an event, and I chose to stay quite about it, but then something changed, and that is why I am writing about what I think has happened in Delhi. Before I move any forward, please accept my apologies, if this is not edited for the best reading experience or is what some editorial people will call a lousy copy, but this is about my 2 cents.

It all started 3 years back for me, Harpreet and I had just finished our Landmark Forum, and we were sitting for breakfast with a few friends, a news in the news paper about a Bartender being raped / molested was the headline and the media was calling Delhi Unsafe, for us it was just another day, but something changed, Harpreet, Me, Dr. Sanjay Dhawan and Dr. Nidhi Dhawan decided to take matters in our own hands, we could no longer be bystanders, we had to do something – we called it Women Safe.

This was a Wednesday, we got tweeting, sending invites on Facebook and other networks that we were a part of, and on Sunday we raised a 5 point petition to the Hon. President of India, Smt. Pratibha Patil, a peaceful march of 200 people in black, from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan, had us believe we could change India. This was just the starting, as I said, we were no longer going to be mute spectators, we were either going to contribute to change and not shut up.

Crime is a Reality, it is a chilling reminder that there is a social disconnect in our society, whether it is a crime against a man, a woman, a child or an elder, it is just not acceptable.

At the pretext, what has happened to the 27 year old girl, should not be happening to any one, but it is a reality, there are crimes against women, from mental and physical abuse, to sexual assaults, happening inside homes, by the street sides, in the whole world, my heart goes out to her and her family and I pray that she recovers as a stronger person – I know it is easy for me to say this, but I really do hope that her family and her friends are by her side.

So why am I writing this:

Point of View 1 – Why did the Girl Take a Cab Alone and Fall Asleep?

Yes, your safety is your prerogative, but when you are inside an office, you trust that your employer will work towards your safety, when you are in a city, you work and pay your taxes so that the government will take care of your safety, when you are in a cab, you trust the cab company to do all background checks that they will take care of you, when they drop you.

I am reminded of my trip to Taiwan earlier this year with Harpreet, a country I have fallen in love with. It was the middle of the night while we were taking the metro train from one station to the end of the line, and we saw girls, travelling alone, in their short clothes that they generally wear, sleeping in the metro train – they know their safety was taken care of, there are travellers from across the globe there, but they know that no one will touch them – the law is just very hard for someone who commits a crime, so you better stay away from the crime, but that’s not the case in India.

Yes the Girl should have been careful, yes she should have had a friend accompany her, whatever, is she at fault – Who am I to say that, I was not there, I was not in her shoes, so let’s stop blaming the woman, and let’s start being careful for ourselves, and our peers, our friends, and make sure we touch base with all of them if they have reached safely after we bid them goodbye, man, woman, child or elder.

Point of View 2 – It was an UBER Cab, a company that promises safety?

So let’s get our facts right, UBER is primarily a software company, a facilitator of sorts, yes like every other business they have a model where they help a customer buy what the customer wants, and the seller sell what the seller has in inventory, it is one of the simpler models, and the model that India needed. If you have used an UBER Cab, you will vouch for the great quality of service that they do, if you have not, you would have heard of them, if you have not heard of them, this incident has surely brought their name up for being worried.

I have been a long time UBER user, in India from the day they launched services, and across the globe. In cities where I can find UBER services, it is just easier for me to manage my commute, without being worried about shortest routes, right charges, or cars breaking rules, so I agree that she had her trust in UBER, and there was nothing wrong in it.

So is UBER wrong?

Depending on which story you are reading, you will hear from UBER flouting the rules to UBER walking away from ownership. In most of the cabs across the world you will find a built in CCTV camera, this camera though in most of the countries has been installed for Driver safety, so that someone does not pull a knife or a gun on the driver, but it also ensures passenger safety and records. Could UBER have pushed for this in the cars that they were hiring – YES, does the Government want this in the Cabs – NO

Could UBER have done a better and a thorough background check – YES.

So Back to the Question, is UBER Wrong – To a certain extent I think they are wrong. Since they work in global geographies and see challenges across the globe, they could have easily had certain additional implementations done, certain more steps added, but are they wrong – NO, Should we stop Them – Definitely NO, Should we reform and take a call on how this business has to be done – YES

Point of View 3 – Ban UBER, Ban Others, Ban them in Delhi, Ban them across India

What India suffers from right now is a big gap between Government provided transport to public transport (whether in public private partnership, private ownership or others) available to the consumers.

From Pondicherry to Bangalore we were booked on a Train, the ticket was done 20 days back, and we were in a Waiting List, when we went and checked with the Station Master he said, I am sorry there is only 1 train from here, and your ticket will not get reserved, better is you take a taxi or a Bus. We took a private bus, the bus driver drove at speeds between 80 to 100 kmph, throwing us out of our seats every time, this was not just on the highways, this was even inside the city of Pondicherry and the City of Bangalore – Who controls all this, are their CCTV’s in the Busses – NO, Are their GPS’s – No, is there Traffic Police watching all this – YES, are they doing something about it – NO.

Problem is we have systems in place, we have bureaucrats in place, and we have officers in place, they do not like each other, they don’t like systems – Systems don’t let them make money, systems don’t let them sleep, systems don’t let them relax, systems are designed for them to go out on the street and work, make sure the country is a better place.

There can not be a law for UBER, or Against UBER, for Ola or against Ola, for Taxi for Sure or Against Taxi for Sure, for Others, these are new business’s, new business models. If the government is going to react in a knee jerk manner, they will end up banning everything – we wanted to ban Google Earth, as it was taking pictures of sensitive areas in the country, we wanted to ban Facebook as it was letting people speak against their local political representative, we wanted to ban twitter, we ban movies, we now want to ban what augments our transport system. We even for sometime had a ban on e-rickshaws – when they were running, the traffic police seems to have turned a blind eye to them, and then suddenly we have big majors of e-rickshaws being setup, is this just political agenda – I do not have an answer.

What I clearly know is, that the internet and the business of connecting a buyer with a seller is going to grow fast, faster than any policy can, and policy will just have to follow. They say UBER has been in India since October of 2013, yes – Everyone who is technology savvy is aware of the company. Even Reserve Bank of India in their circular Dated 22nd August 2014 – has known that the company has existed. Ministry of Finance has known about Ola Cabs being in existence since July of 2014, when they raised 250 crores – Yes they raised this money, are a tax paying company, the government has known about them – so the government can’t claim what they were doing was illegal.

There is a flip side of the coin here, the Government does not understand the business that UBER / Ola / Taxi for Sure or others offer, so it is either (a) illegal – since there is no law for it, or (b) unknown – which is more dangerous.

The problem is, each ministry does not talk to another, and where they do, it is eventually mud-slinging, in that typical Indian way of – tune yeh kiya mere saath.

There are several business models that are emerging that the government may not understand, and can’t just outrightly call them illegal. People in India are buying goods from China using websites such as Ali Express, or DX.com, while India is busy writing rules of Bureau of Indian Standards, that will only allow a certain quality and above of material to be sold in India, and each of the goods will first need to pass a test, but chances are, your Ali Express or DX Shipment came through the customs in India [after all it flew on a plane, cleared customs] and was delivered to you by none other than India Post – IS THIS ILLEGAL – No, It is the Unknown, and The Government has to make a policy.

Once the policy is there, it can be called against the policy or with the policy, but till such time there is no policy, a business can not be called Illegal or said to be flouting rules.

<b>Point of View 4 – But UBER has said to be flouting rules of Cabs that were not registered, cabs that were not supposed to run in Dehli.</b>

Agreed, there could have been cases like this. Now let’s look at the scenario carefully.

UBER has an App that lets you get a taxi when you need it and where you are. It does this by making sure there is an inventory of taxis available for hire, but UBER does not own or run any one of those taxis. It partners with large taxi operators to single taxi owners and brings them on board, they login to the app to have their inventory available, and log out of the app to have their inventory show as un-available. The Taxi Company or the Taxi owner is at fault, if he is producing fake certificates, or if he is bribing someone to generate certificates, or just being greedy to hire more cabs, or private cars to run as taxis, the cab company is at fault.

Point of View 5 – Let’s take out a Morcha

So back to the topic, the woman was harmed, in a way that is unacceptable to all of us, what has happened is sad, and needs to be stopped – how do we do that, well if you are a dilli-walls or a mumbai-walla or a bangalore-wallah chances are you maybe planning to take out a morcha on Sunday, if you are not planning a friend on Facebook, whats app, twitter would have pinged you by now saying let’s do it, after all we have to take a stand – but what is the Morcha about?

1. The Police worked efficiently and has supposedly nabbed the right suspect
2. The Government and the Law should make sure they are going to put this man on trial and the justice will take it’s due course
3. The licenses have been suspended, and now there is word that a policy is being worked out on how to let the software based taxi companies work, and what rules do they come under.

So What is the Morcha about, what is the ruckus about, are women unsafe – YES, are men Unsafe – Yes, are children Unsafe – Yes, are you and I unsafe – YES – this my friends is the chilling reality.

I know this has been a long read, and quite a bit of blabbering I have done, no I was not sponsored by UBER or any one else to write this, no I was not pushed by my wife to write this, I want to see India a better place, I want to see it shine, I want it to be as safe as another place on earth, and I want to participate in the change, but Mudslinging, Morcha-baazi or naare-baazi is not the answer, what we need is concrete steps.
1. Use an App to track your loved one if they are coming late in the evening
2. Try to travel in Groups
3. Work with your Society, Your RWA to make sure Street Lights, Campus Lights in your Area work – If you don’t have a budget or are short on budget create one, if you have the money, Install a high lamp outside your house and light up the street. – Yes this is the Governments responsibility, but it is also ours.
4. When you see a criminal activity happening, whether it is a matter of eve teasing, or you see someone in a hit and run – don’t be a mute spectator, stand up and take action. Call the police
5. Next time you are in a Cab and the Cabbie jumps a traffic signal, have a conversation with him – don’t shout at him.. explain to him, and eventually also report this activity to the cab company you hired it from.

I will stop now, maybe I will write more about this, but in the meantime, I will point you to a lovely blog post by Justice Katju – Little Red Riding Hood – Do Read it….