By Malvika Verma
Edited by Nandini Bhatia
The Indian democracy shares a strange relationship with the practice of banning. The ban serves as the country’s personal favorite panic room. Whenever we are confronted with a problem and are angry, irritated, fearful or unsure, instead of scouring for viable solutions to the problem we resort to banning. The aam admi is unthinkingly applauding and sometimes ignorant of this ban frenzy, because he does not realize the gravity of the repercussions that such bans entail for him.
Last week’s Uber rape case incident had a domino effect, with other operators also getting affected severely. The government immediately halted operations of web-based taxi services claiming that these services were misleading customers. This banning instance has invited a huge outcry from Delhi’s class of working women. The aam aurat this time is not blindingly appreciative of the latest in our ban frenzy as this restricts her freedom and does absolutely nothing to enhance her security. This step of the government takes the capital’s fast growing population of working women back to the time when they were at the mercy of kaali-peelis driven by usually, if not always, rowdy and menacing drivers.
It is true that Uber has miserably failed to live up to the standards it promises to its customers. In the US, the company performs a three step screening and a seven-year background check into potential drivers’ histories. If this kind of regulation was carried out in India and if checks had properly been performed, then this situation would never have arisen. Uber does indeed have a lot of explaining to do. However, to ban it altogether and follow that up by banning other app based taxi services serves no purpose. Home minister Rajnath Singh following the ban in Delhi has urged other states and cities to follow his suit. A response of this kind is only a reflection of the ignorance of those in power.
The authorities have time and again managed to shift attention of the masses from the real problem, which in this case is how a man with a criminal record got a pass. It is here that the buck passing commences. Uber has clearly stated that it is not responsible for conducting background checks on drivers in India; instead it relies on the Indian government to perform such tasks when issuing commercial permits. The tragedy here is the same as the December 16 bus gang rape case, the problem at hand was making public spaces, transport and facilities safe for women. This problem, unfortunately, was never addressed and the focus was instead shifted to retribution-castrate the rapists, hang them in public, etc. This time the app services have been made the scapegoat. It seems to be a never-ending practice, which offers no hope for improving the current situation of women in the nation.
Our democracy bans more things than any other genuine democracy. With all that talk of freedom of speech we have in our constitution – we do have a lot of other rules in place that completely negate this freedom and open the floor up to censorship. Today it is nearly impossible to make any kind of cultural, social or political commentary in India. Movies like Amu, Parzania and Water have been banned in select regions of India because they are apparently offensive to a certain section of the society. The import of Salman Rushdie’s best seller ‘ The Satanic Verses’ was banned as Muslim groups protested that it was blasphemous and hurt their religious sentiments. India was the first country to ban this book. Paintings have been banned because they show Bharat Mata in the “wrong light”. Books movies, plays and, of late, even taxi services—nothing escapes the wrath of our banning frenzy. Some of the things that people do in their everyday lives are also banned in our free country. Few know about the law that prevents women from being in places that sell liquor post 10pm in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This was the government’s way of dealing with that certain incident involving a few NALSAR students. Instead of making stronger laws, you ban women from bars. All hail the Indian logic!
With the number of things banned it seems plausible that the moment somebody objects, we ban. Banning the app based services is not a way around crime against women, strong regulatory mechanisms and stringent measures against perpetrators is what is required.
I think it is high time that we realise that a ban alone solves nothing. It leaves Indians getting on with life at certainty of violating the law. The sooner the authorities realize this, the better it is for the nation, for this culture of banning is certainly not in harmony with the principles of democracy and liberalism enlisted in our constitution.