Ever since cab aggregators like Ola and Uber became operational in cities across the country, there have been several horror stories of women passengers being allegedly sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by the drivers.
Once again, Ola is back in the news. This time, after a 30-year-old woman heading for the Bengaluru airport in an Ola cab was allegedly attacked and abducted by the driver early on Thursday morning.
“He told me that he knows the address to my house. He said he lived so close to my house that it would take only a couple of minutes of travel. The driver was telling me this when I was screaming for help. When he said he knew where my house is, I got so scared. It sounded like he would do me harm if I screamed for help,” says Kavya*, the survivor of the attack.
Kavya, a resident of Bengaluru was on her way to her home town in West Bengal on Thursday morning, when she boarded an Ola cab to the Kempegowda International Airport. When the cab reached the Hebbal flyover, the cab driver Suresh (28) began speeding.
“He was travelling at 100 kmph and I was telling him to slow down. He was not ready to listen to me and he kept going. When I insisted multiple times, he slowed down for a couple of minutes and once again he began speeding. Instead of heading towards the airport, he was moving towards Yelahanka junction near the trumpet intersection,” Kavya says.
At this point, Kavya demanded that Suresh stop the car as she wanted to get off the vehicle. She alleged that Suresh turned on the child lock and refused to let her out.
“That’s when I started screaming. He was trying to deviate from the KIA toll plaza and he had to slow down because there were many vehicles. That’s when I began screaming for help. The person manning the toll booth heard me scream and said that help was on its way,” Kavya narrates.
The alert told booth personnel dialed 100 and informed the police control room that a woman was stuck inside a cab and that the driver was not willing to let her out of the car.
“The person at the toll booth saw the police vehicle located very close to the cab I was in. He began screaming for help and soon the Hoyasala arrived. The police then helped me out of the car and got hold of the cab driver. Since I had to reach the airport, the police took my written complaint. There were two women who had stopped by when the toll booth personnel were trying to help. They offered me a ride back to the airport and I left,” Kavya recounts.
The Chikkajala Police, who arrested Suresh say that he was under the influence of alcohol and could barely form a coherent sentence when they took him in for questioning soon after the incident occurred.
“After he sobered up, he said that he was taking the other route only because he did not have money to pay the toll at the toll plaza. This is an excuse because generally, the customers pay the toll. He was drunk. He said that he was under the impression that he could get away with it,” a police officer at the Chikkajala Station said.
“When I was writing down my complaint, the driver once again said – We all know how this works. I will be out in a month or two. Also, I know your address now. This scared me a lot,” Kavya says.
Second such incident
Shockingly, this is the second incident within a month occurring on the route to the airport. In June, an Ola cab driver allegedly clicked nude photos of a 28-year-old woman after forcing her to strip.
The women, a native of Mumbai, was working in Bengaluru, filed a complaint through an email to the Police Commissioner, who had arrested the cab driver – V Arun.
When the Jeevan Bhima Nagar Police arrested Arun, he had allegedly told the police that he had deliberately taken the woman to a secluded area as he knew no one would come to help her.
“When we had questioned him, he had said that he had planned to take the woman to a secluded spot after she got into the cab. When they were near Hebbal area, he took a detour and took her to a secluded spot. There he forced her to strip and took nude pictures of her. The girl complied because she was scared for her life. She begged him to let her go and when he unlocked the door, she ran to the main road and hailed another cab. When we arrested him, he was shocked. He had not expected the girl to file a complaint,” the JB Nagar police said.
What Ola and K’taka govt have to say
Recently, an Ola spokesperson confirmed to TNM that drivers are not formally trained on subjects like gender sensitivity and sexual harassment but are provided “online modules” which they must go through. The terms and conditions for Ola’s partners/cab fleet mention a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ – except it does not mention sexual harassment.
However, after the spate of incidents, Ola did issue a standard statement. “We are extremely pained and appalled by the incident and share the anguish and the concern of our customer. The Company has decided to file a formal police complaint at the Chikkajala Police Station in Bengaluru against both the cab owner and the driver. We have already shared all the relevant information with the local police and extended full cooperation to aid in the police investigations to ensure speedy justice,” an Ola spokesperson said.
On June 30, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Dr G Parameshwara held a discussion with representatives of Ola and Uber to discuss the issue of safety of women travelling in cabs.
According to a statement issued by the DyCM, the meeting touched upon issues of conducting detailed background checks on drivers and also upping the verification process.
“We want to make Bengaluru the safest city. We need to add best practices to ensure this. Drivers with bad behaviour complaints or poor ratings from customers need to be reported to the police. The discussion was about police verification and the process that the companies must follow before hiring a driver. Checking the history of drivers and where they come from is very important. The issue of a stringent process to determine the psychological make-up of the drivers was also discussed. The discussion revolved around the need to make corrections if required and ensure women safety as top priority,” the statement reads.
Dr Parameshwara said that the meeting also touched upon issues of gender sensitisation programs for the drivers and also impose the rule of disabling child locks in cabs.
“The issue of having women drivers was also discussed,” the statement added.