A few days ago, I was on a long cab ride, and I started a conversation with the driver. I am not sure how we got talking but 10 minutes into the conversation, I was convinced of one thing: Bangalore has a drinking and cabbing problem.
With strict drunk-driving checks all around the city, people who party on weekends have started to take cabs to get back home. You’ll know how much they are in demand if you try getting a cab on a weekend night. That’s excellent, right? But after last night’s chat with Kiran, the cabbie who was driving me, I am not sure of what to think.
You see, that was the fifth time a cab driver had told me that weekend nights are a complete disaster for him. Women, drunk out of their wits, often unable to stand up straight, are bundled into cabs and sent back home by their friends after an evening of hard drinking — either alone or with equally drunk companions. Often, there’s no one sober enough to make sure they reach home properly. Many of them throw up, and many pass out, Kiran told me.
This means if a cab driver needs further directions to their location, he can’t get it. I’d like you to stop and imagine what that means: Ladies, he can’t find your house.
I’d like you to stop and imagine what that means: Ladies, he can’t find your house.
Imagine you are a cab driver, taking a very drunk woman home. Her friends have booked a cab from her phone, maybe they haven’t even put in the correct address because they don’t know it. Imagine that while you’re driving, you hear retching sounds from the back and find that your passenger has thrown up over your new Turkish towel seat cover and then passed out. You grit your teeth and drive on, and then you reach a narrow street and are not sure about your passenger’s door number. What do you do? Do you just dump her by the side of the road? Do you get out and help her out of the car? Should you even touch her? What if she finds it offensive?
Such decisions have to be made by Bangalore’s Uber and Ola drivers much too often on the busiest nights of the week, when they can be out earning hefty incentives.
Instead, they are cleaning puke and trying to avoid potential harassment charges.
To be fair, this isn’t just a problem in Bangalore — Uber drivers have reported
from various cities
across the world.
This, to me, is alarmingly serious. If it sounds like I am putting the onus of safety on a drunk person, then yes, that’s exactly what I am doing. I am also putting it on the friends and colleagues who go out drinking with women and then, at the end of the night, everyone says their goodbyes and heads out separately.
Instead, they are cleaning puke and trying to avoid potential harassment charges.
As much as we feminists ask for a society that is safe, fighting for structures and mores that lead to a level playing field for women in society, I think it’s equally important to understand that — irrespective of gender — being safe is first an individual’s responsibility.
It’s also imperative to be considerate of other people’s spaces — such as the cab you’re riding home in — and your driver’s time.
While Kiran was going on about women and how they shouldn’t be drinking, and while his language at times bordered on being derogatory towards women, he also reiterated that men are equally bad. However, he kept saying that he finds it easier to refuse a ride to a drunk man than a drunk woman. Drivers have told me if it’s a drunk guy, it’s ok to leave him by the side of the road. They don’t feel the need to help him up three flights of stairs to his house. “Can I do that to a woman,” one of them asked. My feminist ideal had no answers.
Here’s my second question: say you do get careless one night and are so drunk that you’re not responsible for your own safety. Where are your friends? What are they doing? Letting your friends go home drunk out of their wits, putting the onus of their safety on a cab driver who is just doing his job, is really not a nice thing to do.
One cabbie told me he left a woman outside the gate of her apartment and went away, because he didn’t know what else to do. I shudder to imagine what could have happened to her. Another said he told the security guard of an apartment building to help and he refused because he didn’t want the “jhamela” of handling a woman physically, and also because they weren’t allowed to leave their post.
My cabbie’s words were, “When my hand brushes a woman’s thigh by mistake when I am changing the gear she reports me to Uber/Ola. But the very same woman calls me the next day to thank me for physically carrying her home.”
I ask you: why is it this stranger’s job to make sure you reach home alright?
Another cabbie, a few months ago, told me he’s helped over 30 women up to their houses because they couldn’t stand up straight and go home. He identified himself as a devout Muslim and said it was hard for him to hold a strange woman, touch her and take her home. He was afraid of getting into trouble.
He told me about the time he dropped two women home, to two different locations. They were so drunk they couldn’t even get a cab themselves. Their friends left them outside a bar and they were passed out on the steps. The security guard of the building flagged down a cab, paid him a small amount of money and sent them home because he didn’t know what else to do with them.
“When my hand brushes a woman’s thigh by mistake when I am changing the gear she reports me to Uber/Ola. But the very same woman calls me the next day to thank me for physically carrying her home.”
This cabbie then got the more sober of them to give him directions and dropped the drunker one off but had to carry her three floors up, ask her for a key, deposit her inside and leave. Can you imagine all the things that could have gone wrong with this situation? Can you fathom the severe danger of a stranger having access to inside her house? The second girl directed him to her house and just before she got there, vomited all over his car. He got her out, and to her door. Instead of going home, she started to lean her head on the door frame and started to cry saying, “My boyfriend doesn’t love me.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at this: seriously, the cab guys that most women treat with such suspicion and disdain is suddenly their confidante and keeper of their safety? I want to shake these women.
Kiran told me guys get in with drunk girls and feel them up. The girl feebly resists but two guys sitting on either side are continuing to feel her up. He has had to throw the boys out and drop her home. He’s even had to watch over a girl sitting outside her house because she didn’t have enough sense to go in and she wasn’t even his customer, an earlier cab had dropped her off.
Let me come back to the vomiting bit. I don’t get this. Would you puke in your own car? Would you find it ok to clean up a stranger’s puke from your car? How do you think, then, that it’s perfectly okay to get yourself in a situation where you can’t handle yourself with consideration for someone else? These are hard working folk going about their lives earning a living while you have a good time. Be considerate. It costs them time, money and customers when you, man or woman, puke in their cab or get in reeking of smoke. The next passenger shoots off a careless little complaint to Uber saying the car smelt of smoke. Puking is worse: it takes hours of sunlight and washing to get rid of the smell.
The next passenger shoots off a careless little complaint to Uber saying the car smelt of smoke.
Kiran and many like him have stopped switching on their Uber or Ola apps during weekends, even though they’d earn much more. But they’d much rather take care of their cars and their general safety than deal with men and women who are drunk and behave inconsiderately. With the recent drop in incentives that app-based cabs have seen, losing out on weekend night trips is a huge cut in their earnings. But it’s a choice people who cannot hold their drink are forcing them to make.
Why aren’t friends taking care of each other? Why don’t these young people have friends who insist on some code of love, friendship and safety? And please understand that being inconsiderate of service providers makes you, man or woman, a complete jerk. Not taking responsibility for your own safety makes you incredibly foolish and downright selfish.
Safety is everybody’s responsibility, but first, it is yours.