(Trigger warning: Descriptions of violence.)
"I pressed the panic button installed in the car and even called Uber but none of it was helpful," alleged 30-year-old Priyanka Devi, a driver with Uber, a day after she was attacked in an alleged robbery attempt on 9 January in Delhi's Kashmere Gate area.
The incident took place around 2.45 am on Monday, when Devi was on her way to pick up a passenger. She alleged that a brick was thrown at the car's windshield and two people then asked for her phone, money, and car keys. She alleged that the two men tried to take away the keys, and when she resisted, one of them hit her on the neck with a beer bottle.
Devi claimed, "I have got 10 stitches on my neck."
An Uber spokesperson said in a statement:
"What this driver went through is horrifying. We are in touch with the driver and wish her a speedy and full recovery. Her injury-related medical expenses will be covered under Uber’s on-trip insurance provided through a third-party insurance partner. We stand ready to support law enforcement authorities in their investigation."
What's a Panic Button?
A crucial safety feature in commercial passenger vehicles, the panic button was mandated on 28 November 2016 after the rape of a passenger by an Uber driver in New Delhi. The button is meant to be installed by the Transport Department in all such vehicles and should trigger an alert to the police.
A report by The Indian Express, however, stated that the panic buttons, years after being mandated, often do not work.
On Tuesday, Devi spoke to The Quint about the incident, being a woman cab driver in Delhi, and the precautions she has to take to ensure her safety. As one of the few women cab drivers, she said that while "unruly passengers are common, I had never experienced something like this before."
'Hit With Beer Bottle on the Neck': Woman Cab Driver
Devi claimed that at least two bricks were thrown at the Swift Dzire car – and one of them landed on the passenger seat.
"When the two men asked for the car keys, I told them that they can 'take the money and phone but the car is not mine. How will I pay for it? I am poor myself.' They tried to forcefully take the keys, so I held the person's hand. But when I shouted, another person hit me on the neck with a beer bottle. I held my neck as it started bleeding. By then, a crowd had gathered so the men ran away," Devi told The Quint over the phone.
She claimed that the accused took away Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000.
There is an SOS button or a panic button in the car but it serves no purpose as it does not work. Car authorities, who do the fitness check, take Rs 8,000 from each driver yearly. When I used it for help, however, nobody responded."
Devi said that she sought help from people and informed the police, too. "The police personnel asked for my location, I sent it, but it took them 30 minutes to get there. They then called an ambulance. The cloth I had used to wrap around my neck was soaked in blood. I was about to faint but I had to stay conscious. I was taken to a government hospital."
Meanwhile, DCP (North) Sagar Singh Kalsi said, "She submitted that an attempt was made to snatch her mobile and then the attacker fled. She refused to tender any complaint but we have taken suo motu cognisance of the case and filed an FIR under Section 393 (attempt to commit robbery) of the Indian Penal Code."
'Some People Cancel Ride Because I'm a Woman'
A single mother of two daughters, Devi lost her husband eight years ago. Before she started driving cabs, the 30-year-old worked as a domestic worker.
About taking up driving cabs, she said:
"When I used to work as a domestic worker, I found out about Azaad Foundation – an NGO that teaches women how to drive for free. So, I trained there for a year and began driving cabs three years ago."
About the daily challenges and everyday sexism women cab drivers face, she said, "Sometimes people cancel the cab booking because I'm a woman driver. Others argue and even shout that I am driving slowly. "
As per Devi, there are around 60-70 women Uber and Ola drivers in Delhi at the moment.
'Uber Has Failed To Safegurad Driver': Gig Workers Union
On 9 January, the Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union (TGPWA), said in a press release, "Uber has failed to adequately safeguard the driver in the first place nor has it provided any support during or in the aftermath of this unfortunate accident."
The press release also stated a list of demands, including compensation for the "costs of repairing her damaged vehicle" and for "her hospital costs."
The group further demanded that Devi should be provided with income compensation of Rs 1,200 each day since "her vehicle is out of commission and she is unable to earn her livelihood."
Along with TGPWA, the Indian Federation of App-based Transport workers (IFAT) also asked Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) to look into the issue.
(The article incorrectly stated that the physical panic button was installed by Uber. It has been corrected to reflect that it was installed by the state Transport Department. The error is regretted.)