By ensuring prompt action after an Uber driver in Ahmedabad misbehaved with women passengers, Gujarat’s new home minister Harsh Sanghavi has proved that he really means it when he says that he is happy to help.
In stark contrast to the prompt and significant official action, Uber, however, has just been mouthing platitudes.
On Sunday night, a few women employees of Vibes of India booked an Uber ride home. The driver was indecent, seemed to be intoxicated, and refused to put his phone down.
As soon as the VoI staffers entered the cab, they got a weird, strong smell. They asked the driver what he was smoking. The driver, who was on the phone, said the earlier passengers were smoking something in a bidi. According to Uber rules, no passenger can smoke in the car.
The driver kept speaking on the phone and the car was swerving dangerously as one hand of his was occupied with the phone.
The passengers requested the driver to stop the car, finish his call and then start driving. It was evident that he was not in control of himself. The driver paid no heed and continued to steer the car with the elbow of one hand while being on the phone with the other.
After three reminders, the driver got abusive. He shouted and ordered the passengers to get off.
“If you don’t get off now, I will have to do something zabardasti (by force),” he warned the women.
The VoI team tried to call the Uber India helpline from the app but there was no response. Later, a senior team member tweeted about the incident along with a video of the first conversation.
After the third request to keep his phone away, the driver had turned and rudely said: “This is my car, I can do whatever I want in my car. I’m cancelling your trip. Take my video. Nothing will happen to me.”
It was dark and since he actually reached towards the rear seat, the passengers got down midway. The women realised that the driver was on the verge of getting violent.
The team tweeted about their harrowing experience in Hindi at 12.11am on Monday.
Within three minutes, Gujarat home minister Harsh Sanghavi tweeted back that he had instructed the police to look into the matter.
Till early Monday morning, Uber did nothing except send automated messages on Twitter. However, after the outraged built up on Twitter, someone who introduced her as Smita called up from Uber India support on Monday morning expressing her regret and claiming that the driver had been identified.
Smita left no number, no information. She promised to get back but nearly 18 hours after that first and last call, she or Uber did not bother to respond.
Instead, it was the Gujarat police that sprung into action. Ahmedabad Police Commissioner Sanjay Srivastava called up and also thanked the VoI Team personally for drawing attention to the incident.
“This can happen to anyone and we are concerned about safety,” he said.
The police commissioner assured VoI that all adequate action will be initiated. He also said that he had got a personal phone call from Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi asking him to take strict action against the Uber driver and probe the issue.
In the next three hours, at least four police personnel contacted VoI as part of the investigations and all of them assured the women of their safety.
The driver has the residential address of one of the VoI team members and naturally they were worried.
Later, the police informed that this Uber driver had not “begun” the trip. Hence there is no record of this trip. Fortunately, the police have now got three videos of the incident in their possession.
Meanwhile, at least four women in Ahmedabad alone have come forward with their personal experiences of being harassed and threatened by Uber drivers. “I even complained at @UberIndiaSupport but they did nothing,” noted actress and social activist Kalpana Gagdekar told VoI.
It is shocking because Gujarat is a very safe place for women. Here girls go for garba and return in all-girl groups at 2am without being harassed.
Minister with a difference
Even amid our trauma, we at VoI have nothing but gratitude for the way Sanghavi proactively ensured action and for the cooperation extended by Ahmedabad police. “In this case, the home minister approached us before Uber did,” VoI CEO Deepal Trivedi said.
Vibes of India is a new age digital media newsroom with 50 per cent job reservation for women. We are proud of the way the minister and the police have stood by us.
Sanghavi, 38, who has been minister for barely 33 days and is the youngest member of the Gujarat CM’s cabinet, has shown multiple times that he is a politician with a difference.
Last week, when he saw a woman jumping into the Tapi river from Sardar bridge in Surat, he had stopped his convoy on the bridge and called up the fire department. The fire brigade team reached the spot and attempted to save the woman. She was taken to a private hospital where she was declared brought dead.
Sanghavi had earlier won Gujarat’s heart when he worked persistently on the case of Shivash, a child who was abandoned by his father in Gandhinagar.
He personally went to see the boy and made sure he was taken care of. The father was nabbed within 24 hours.
Sanghavi’s work as an MLA during the Covid pandemic, his decision to organise job fairs for unemployed youths, to set up book banks in his constituency Surat, and his work in tribal areas made him one of the most sought-after young faces within the Gujarat BJP.
He was the youngest MLA in 2012 when he was elected for the first time at the age of 27 from Majura constituency. He was the state chief of BJP Yuva Morcha since 2010. In the past, Sanghavi has also worked with Anurag Thakur, now the Union minister of information & broadcasting, and MP Poonam Mahajan, when they were BJP youth wing president.
Sanghavi was also one of the backroom boys in PM Modi’s constituency Varanasi during the 2014 Lok Sabha election and played a key role in reaching out to the Indian diaspora ahead of PM Modi’s events. This led him to become one of the trusted lieutenants of PM Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and current BJP state president CR Paatil.
If you find your cab driver unprofessional, drunk or if he misbehaves with you, call:
National emergency number: 112
Police emergency number: 100
Special Assistance for Women in distress: 181
If you have been a victim of any such driver, please email your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org