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AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
The horror and anger of 2012 has returned to Delhi.

A rape in an Uber is further proof that staying out late just isn’t safe for Delhi’s women

By Diksha Madhok & Shelly Walia

On Friday, Dec. 05, a young financial executive was allegedly raped by her Uber driver in New Delhi.

The incident has not only shattered Uber’s reputation as a safe and reliable transportation service, it has also reminded urban Indian women that not much has changed since Dec. 16, 2012—when a 23-year-old medical student was brutally gang raped on a moving bus in the capital.

The Uber driver and alleged rapist even told the victim that he would thrust a rod inside her stomach if she informed the police. Many women would draw a connection between this statement and that horrific rape in 2012 when the young woman was actually sexually assaulted with an iron rod.

Even though India has seen massive protests against gender violence in the last two years, and has introduced tougher rape laws, the impact on the lives of working women in and around New Delhi has been limited.

Many women in Delhi, which does not have a 24-hour metro service, had come to rely on taxi-booking services such as Uber or Ola to provide a safe transportation at night. But now that trust is broken.

They still continue to feel threatened at home, at office and in public transportation.

Here are reactions from a few young, professional women in Delhi.

Smita Rakesh, 29, freelance renewable energy consultant

I don’t want or expect my male friends to drop me home after a late-night drinking session. Having a man around does not make me feel any safer. If something bad happens, I doubt if he would be able to do much to protect me.

I am not shocked to hear that an Uber driver has raped a woman.

I have been living on my own in Delhi for 11 years now and have also travelled to remote villages alone for work. So I am confident about my ability to keep myself safe.

I don’t own a car. At night, I take autos or cabs. I also enjoy walking a lot. It is not like I am seeking trouble, but I see no harm in walking at night. After all, women are not safe in their homes or offices, so I don’t see how walking alone is more dangerous.

I am not shocked to hear that an Uber driver has raped a woman. I have felt unsafe in radio cabs before. When I feel unsafe, I often call a close friend and talk loudly to him or her so that the driver knows someone is keeping a tab on my location.

But I hope this incident does not deter women from going out. The more you stay at home, the more you perpetuate the myth that you need a man to ensure your safety. Putting yourself out there is the only way to go. If 20 other women in my locality decide to walk with me at 2 am, then walking alone will not be considered risky. I am not trying to be a Jhansi ki Rani, but this is how I actually feel.

Shalini Singh, 29, publishing executive

I am almost 30 and I do not own a car. I live in Gurgaon and I work in Connaught Place. It is a commute that takes me around 90 minutes, one-way. While I am not in an industry where late working hours are a norm, a lot of my friends are, which is why most of our post-work quick bites do stretch to, at least, 9.30 p.m.

To feel safe at the cost of the freedom of choosing to be where I want to be is not an option.

It is at times like these, which are not infrequent, when I have to decide whether I should just invite myself over to a friend’s place or find a relatively safer way to reach home. The metro would be convenient but what if it’s after midnight and what if I do not find an auto once I get off the metro? So the cab it is. Is it safe enough? I don’t know.

Yes, I know it is advisable to avoid late nights or to have a companion or to have my own vehicle. But those are not the options that I have and I would hate to have others change their schedules to accommodate mine. So until the time we manage to have a public transport system that is safer, it is a risk I would continue to take. To feel safe at the cost of the freedom of choosing to be where I want to be is not an option.

Antra Khurana, 30, researcher

The incident is scary and yet again shows the mentality that most men seem to have towards women.  The city’s apathy towards molestation and rape is appalling. A ride to your home should not leave you scarred for the rest of your life. I think if we castrate the first 1,000 rapists then others will at least think three times before actually committing these heinous crimes.

Shalini Krishan, 33, editor at Evalueserve, a business research firm

I am cynical enough to say that I wasn’t hugely shocked by the news. Safety in Delhi is always a contingent concept. In effect, those women who can afford it rely on a network of men like security guards, drivers, auto drivers, servants etc. to protect/distance them from the men whom they feel threatened by. But most rapes happen by people whom the victim knows: within households, by family members, by servants, and harassment of all kinds including rape takes place at work and on dates, by acquaintances and colleagues and fellow students.

Nikita, 33, journalist

The fear psychosis that grips Indian woman has intensified in the two years following the Dec. 16 gang rape. As a woman living in Delhi who works, goes out, has to travel for her work, I can tell you I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I am lucky that I can control my interaction with the city and its streets because I have my own car.

I took a very conscious decision of getting an SUV, even though I could ill afford it.

But even then I choose to never drive home later than 9:00 pm. I had started doing this two years ago and now I realize it’s a deeply ingrained safety mechanism in me.

I used to drive a small car earlier (Alto) but there were one or two incidents of being cat called especially while driving late. So I took a very conscious decision of getting an SUV, even though I could ill afford it. A bigger car will not protect me but it still makes feel more secure.

I used to get very agitated when people would talk in terms of “women are not safe at all in India” but today I feel it is true. When the rapist can threaten the girl with an iron rod specifically citing Dec. 16, it shows he is aware of the magnitude of that crime but still thinks he can get away with it.