Mumbai crime: Uber driver molests Italian woman during 15-minute ride home

Aug 20, 2016, 08:45 IST | Saurabh Vaktania, Shiva Devnath and Gaurav Sarkar

The 36-year-old driver was arrested within 12 hours and he told the police that he could not resist himself and assumed that the victim wouldn’t be able to do anything as she was a foreigner

“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.

Also read: Social media forces Uber to suspend driver who molested woman in Mumbai

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.

Also read: Uber driver held for lewd behaviour with woman passenger in Bengaluru

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
panicked.

Also read: Uber cab driver gets jail for life imprisonment for raping woman executive

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.

Cop competition
At the time of the arrest, the Santacruz police and the Crime Branch were both present there, and they jumped to arrest the accused and take the credit for the case. Even now, the cops refuse to reveal who made the actual arrest. The driver is currently in the custody of the Santacruz police, as is his car.

Survivor speaks
I have always loved Mumbai, and this one incident does not change the way I feel at all. I love the people here, and one bad experience is not going to change my mind about an entire city. I am very grateful that everyone has rallied around me and supported me after this incident.

Uber’s response
A spokesperson for the company said, “Uber has a zero-tolerance policy towards any sort of harassment or misconduct. We have suspended the driver from our platform and have shared all details related to the trip and the driver with the relevant authorities for official investigation.”

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