Uber lands in trouble, again

US-based taxi-hailing firm Uber has again landed in trouble in the national capital. A 22-year-old professional dancer has alleged she was sexually assaulted when a driver on Uber’s network tried to forcibly kiss her at the end of a ride on Saturday.

This comes a day after Uber announced it had hired Amit Jain, former president of US-based real estate portal Rent.com, to head its India operations. Six months ago, a driver on Uber’s network had allegedly raped a 27-year-old finance executive, triggering a blanket ban on taxi aggregators in New Delhi.

The driver could not be contacted as Uber refused to share his details, citing privacy issues.

Speaking to Business Standard on the phone, the 22-year-old detailed the sequence of events on Saturday: She called for an Uber taxi around 9 pm, after finishing her dance classes, to head to a friend’s place in Gurgaon. Midway, she claimed she felt unsafe. She suspected that if some men (driver’s allies) got into the back of the car, she would be “stuck in the middle”. She decided to stop the car and sit beside the driver, in the front, so that in case of an emergency, she could pull the handbrake or somehow try and control the car. “I don’t know why I made that stupid decision,” she said.

After reaching the destination, the driver wanted to shake hands with her and she offered her hand. He shook it and kissed it as well. When she tried to withdraw her hand and tried to pick up her bag, he tried to pull her towards him by tugging at the bag. She pushed him away. “My friends were watching from the balcony but I couldn’t even scream, because it felt so bad,” said the woman, who lives with her mother and an elder brother. She complained through the app and got an emailed reply from Uber. A representative from the company called her, too. The dancer claimed as she was not in a condition to speak, disturbed by the event, a friend of hers spoke to the Uber representative.

The company has since suspended the driver and said in its response that its team immediately reached out to the rider via the phone, within a few minutes of receiving the feedback. Several members of the Uber team have also spoken with the driver.

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“Uber has a zero-tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour and immediate action has already been taken with the driver-partner being deactivated, while the matter is being thoroughly investigated,” Uber said. “As discussed with the rider on the phone and email, our team is ready to assist further in any way we can to share information with authorities.”

Meanwhile, the woman and her brother have accused Uber of sending a “template” response. “The email seemed so casual, as if the driver didn’t do anything,” the woman said. She also mentioned that the driver called her on Sunday night to say he had  got fired because of her. The dancer said she hung up soon after and did not take his calls thereafter.

A first information report  (FIR) has been lodged against the cab driver by the Gurgaon police for molestation, city Police Commissioner Navdeep Singh Virk said, according to a PTI report. Police received a mail regarding the incident and immediately lodged the FIR, he said.

She said there should be an emergency number to call, instead of an email option, in such a situation. The woman did not immediately inform her mother about the incident. The mother came to know only after her brother posted a message on Facebook. “I was not ready to tell my parents, but after a point I realised that it’s not my fault. I am scared about everything (now)… I felt like a lost child.”

Uber could be in greater trouble this time, as the amended radio taxi guidelines released by the Delhi government states that in case of such incidents, the driver and the company would be separately and jointly held responsible. Though the incident happened in Gurgaon, the ride was initiated in Delhi, which could be held against Uber, said a Delhi transport department official, adding that before this incident, the company was close to getting a licence to operate in Delhi.

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