“Is it safe to take an Uber at this time?” asked Isabella (name changed).

The 32-year-old Italian had moved to Mumbai just six months ago and already loved the city, but still didn’t know her way around properly. It was around 11 pm, but her friend assured her she had nothing to be worried about — Mumbai was safe. Half-an-hour later, this confidence in ‘safe Mumbai’ fell flat on its face when the Uber driver stopped the car at a secluded spot and molested Isabella.

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Uber driver, Shehbaz  Shekhani, was arrested from Mandvi, south Mumbai yesterday on charges of molestation
Uber driver, Shehbaz  Shekhani, was arrested from Mandvi, south Mumbai yesterday on charges of molestation

Thanks to prompt action by the police, the driver — identified as 36-year-old Shehbaz Abdul Sattar Shekhani — was arrested within 12 hours.

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Shekhani told the cops, “I could not resist myself after watching her. As she was a foreigner, I knew that she wouldn’t know anything about Mumbai and thought she could not do anything to me.”

Survivor’s tale
Isabella was having dinner at her friend’s house at Pali Hill on Thursday night, after which, she had to go to Versova to ring in a friend’s birthday. The 32-year-old doctor booked a cab after her friends persuaded her it that was perfectly safe. The driver, Shehbaz, seemed friendly and struck up a conversation.

Also read: Uber driver held for 'touching himself' in front of female passenger

With the roads empty at night, it was supposed to be just a 15-minute ride from Bandra to Versova. Instead, the accused drove into a secluded bylane.

A police officer said, “The accused repeatedly asked the woman to come and sit ahead with him, so it would not be a bumpy ride. But she was uncomfortable and refused. Later, he told her that he could not see through the rear windshield properly and stopped the car to clean it.”

Under the pretext of cleaning the windshield from the inside, the driver let himself into the back and began to molest Isabella.

She told mid-day, “I didn’t know where I was. When I started screaming, he went back and sat in the driver’s seat, and drove on.” She even called her friend and began to narrate what had happened, after which the driver

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An officer said, “At Gajdarband, he stopped the cab opposite a hotel and approached the woman again. She screamed and told him to leave her. The accused sensed that he could be caught, so he grabbed the woman and pushed her out of the cab onto the road. He then escaped in his car and drove towards south Mumbai, where he lives. He also stopped to eat at Nair Hospital.”

The woman called her friends again and they went to Khar police station to report the crime. As the jurisdiction fell under Santacruz police station, the Khar police filed a ‘Zero FIR’ under Section 354 (molestation) of the IPC and transferred the case to Santacruz police. Meanwhile, the Crime Branch also started a parallel investigation. Yesterday afternoon, Shehbaz was arrested outside his home at Mandvi, in south Mumbai.