AFTER an alleged rape by a taxi driver for a US-based firm, women in Mumbai are turning to a new taxi service – run by women trained in karate.
Viira Cabs is run by women for women, and drivers are trained in karate and armed with knives and pepper spray.
Rape and treatment of women has become a huge issue in India since the gang rape and murder of medical student on a bus in New Dehli in 2012.
The latest incident involved taxi firm Uber, which is headquartered in San Francisco and operates in cities worldwide.
Viira Cabs driver Anita Manney, 35, said: “We feel safe. Before I used to feel insecure, but Viira has taught us safety measures. As well as karate, we keep pepper spray handy to avoid anything wrong.”
The service was the brainchild of 35-year-old entrepreneur and social activist Preeti Sharma Menon, who wanted women to be able to travel safely.
She said: “I was looking for something new to do and I wanted to do something that would make a difference.”
The entrepreneur is dedicated to championing women’s equality, and many Viira drivers are the sole bread-winners in their family.
Taxi driver Raju Chergat, 36, said: “Before, my salary was very low, but now my income has gone up, so it makes a difference. I am independent. I am not under anyone’s dominance. I am master of my own will and I can take care of my household.”
The scheme is proving a big hit with Mumbai’s women.
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Regular Viira Cabs passenger Sajna Sivan said: “I am a photographer, so I have lot of late nights. So when that happens I don’t want to randomly take a car with all my equipment. I’d rather get someone with whom I feel comfortable.
“I usually feel safe travelling but there are times when it gets darker and you have random people making remarks.”
Uber has been banned in India on the back of the alleged rape – with Thailand and Spain now following suit.
A 26-year-old woman used the Uber phone app to book a taxi home in New Delhi last Friday night but said she was taken to a secluded area and raped.
Uber said it would review its Indian operations and beef up driver screening as it seeks to reach an agreement with the government to restart services.
The federal government asked states to ban Uber on Tuesday amid concerns about passenger safety after the driver was arrested.
The case has caused an uproar in India after it emerged that the suspect had been previously charged with sexual offences, including rape. Uber failed to uncover the charges because it does not carry out background checks on drivers in India.
“Let us acknowledge that we must do better,” Uber said, adding it wanted to resume operations in New Delhi. “The events of this week have made us reflect on our operations and we are immediately undertaking a number of important actions.”
The company said it would evaluate its customer support, the way it handled passenger feedback and re-review previous passenger comments after a client said she had lodged a complaint with Uber about the behaviour of the driver ten days before the attack.
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