An Uber driver was arrested on Monday night after a woman complained to police that he harassed her and performed a lewd act when she was travelling alone in his cab from south Calcutta around two weeks ago.
Accused Pintu Yadav was traced through the phone number that the complainant had provided, becoming the first Uber driver to be arrested in Calcutta since the taxi aggregator started operating in the city in August 2014.
According to the complaint lodged with Bhowanipore police station, Pintu allegedly masturbated while eyeing the woman in the rear-view mirror during the journey. "The complaint says that the driver took a detour through different lanes instead of staying on the main road. After some time, she noticed him allegedly staring at her in the rear-view mirror and masturbating," a police officer said.
When Metro contacted Uber, a senior official said the accused was first suspended and, based on an internal investigation, permanently removed from the company's "system" although he had an average passenger rating of 4.4 on a scale of 5.
"This means the driver in question won't be able to drive on the Uber platform ever again," Karun Arya, spokesperson for Uber, said from Singapore.
The complainant had reported the alleged incident to Uber once the trip ended. The other option available to her was the SOS button on the Uber app that sends an alert straightaway to the local police the moment a passenger presses it.
"In this case, the rider didn't press the SOS button but informed the company (about the incident) once the trip was over. We immediately acted on it, following our protocol. We suspended the driver till an investigation. We asked the rider if she would like to file an FIR with the police and assisted her in doing so. We provided every relevant information that the police wanted: the driver's licence, his bank details etc," Arya said.
Police sources said Pintu's mobile-phone tower location helped investigators track him. After two days of surveillance, he was picked up from south Calcutta. He has been booked for sexual harassment under Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code, which carries a maximum punishment of three years in jail.
The police have since found out that the vehicle Pintu drives has 17 traffic-violation cases pending in two courts and 26 other citations, one compound and two sticker cases with the police.
The 25-year-old complainant works in a shopping mall in south Calcutta and had recently shifted to Calcutta from another city. The incident occurred on July 8, after the Uber cab picked her up from her workplace around 7.45pm.
"She told us that she was very scared on spotting the driver committing the alleged offence. She was in a hurry to step out of the vehicle and so didn't say anything to the driver. The same night, she called her colleagues, who helped her reach us," an officer said.
Sources said the driver claimed that the passenger mistook his "adjusting" a tight pair of trousers for the alleged lewd act.
A TaxiForSure driver in Delhi had been dismissed by the company earlier this month on the basis of a similar complaint.
The driver had allegedly masturbated while ferrying a woman on July 2. She lodged a complaint with the company over the phone the same evening and posted details of the alleged incident on social media.
A spokesperson for TaxiForSure, which has been acquired by Uber's main rival Ola, said the driver didn't have a record of misbehaviour and/or rash driving but had been blacklisted. The accused isn't the owner of the cab.
Like the other app-based taxi services available in the market, Uber sends a driver's name, location, phone number and rating to a passenger who requests a pick-up. The passenger may decline to accept a driver based on the rating and is free to share his/her realtime journey location online to others through the mobile app.
At the end of the journey, the passenger is asked to rate the driver on a scale of five and vice-versa. For many, these features have made app cabs the best alternative to the yellow cabs whose drivers are notorious for their rude behaviour and habit of refusing passengers on a whim.
"The convenience and features that luxury cabs offer is the reason why I opt to spend more. On one occasion, I left my bag in the cab but got it back by calling the driver," said a young professional.
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