[BLOG] How my Doha safety-bubble was shattered by a cabbie
Karwa cabs and me have shared a great camaraderie for many years now. As a working woman in Qatar, who doesn’t drive, my need for taxis top the list of needs as a resident here.
My rides have always been pleasant. Most of the time, I would hire a ‘private’ cab because it’s easy to get one, rather than a Karwa that you need to book in advance. You seldom find a vacant one on the street.
The few turquoise rides were pleasant. I would generally throw my head back and sit at the back seat, listening to music. Or if the driver was chatty, he would talk about his home, family and life, and enquire about mine. I would often get asked if I worked for Qatar Airways, which I think they assume about any young female customer getting into a cab, and I would say no, or go ahead and explain my job if I were in a mood.
While many of my colleagues would grumble about cab drivers, complain about their crazy driving or being over-charged, I would dismiss it all, and say, “I have never had a problem”.
Until this night, some days ago.
My sister and I were at City Centre mall watching a movie. By the time we left the mall, it was past 11pm. We needed a cab ride home, and went down to the basement, to the taxi stand. As we waited our turn, several private cab guys approached us, but we refused thinking it was safer to use an official cab at this time of the night.
We finally got a karwa cab by 11.45pm.
The South-Asian driver didn’t seem to be in a good mood right from the start. My apartment is very close to the mall, and we reached in no time. Just as he drew to a halt at the gate, he asked us to hurry, adding in anger, “I don’t have time. Other customers are waiting.”
Taken aback, we asked him not to be rude, and proceeded to settle the fare. Then started a furious rant, that turned personal.
I erred, and tried to reason with him, asking him to speak properly. It was then, in a flash, as I was fumbling with my purse that I saw his raised hand, ready to strike me.
He stopped, mid-action, but I was feeling threatened and insecure all the same.
I’ve lived here all my life, and neither my sister nor I have had such a rude exchange, let alone a man trying to get physically abusive with us.
“Touch me, and I will smack your face,” I told him and got off the cab. We noted down the vehicle number as well.
Complain to whom?[boxify cols_use =”1″ cols =”2″ position =”right” order =”none” box_spacing =”10″ padding =”10″ background_color =”#3c3c3c” border_style =”solid” ]Read Lindsay Peak’s suggestions on staying safe while living alone in Qatar.
“Once Doha residents get past the naive stage of believing in Doha’s seemingly immunity to danger, we realise that Doha is in many ways, like any other city. There will always be pockets of safety, and areas to avoid. Mostly, there is an unwritten code of common sense here in Doha.”[/boxify]
My heart was pounding and I was trembling. What was I supposed to do? Go to the cops, at this time of the night? Instead, I called up the Al Million taxi company to register a complaint. I asked the officer on the line if there have been similar complaints in the past. He wasn’t specific, but told me that several female customers have complained about harassment.
He gave me a complaint number and said within 48 hours an action would be taken.
I related this incident to some of my friends the next day, and some of them advised me to go to the police. But should I have? He technically didn’t touch me, so what “proof” did I have of his violent behaviour. I felt humiliated enough without having to answer all kinds of intrusive questions.
I felt humiliated enough without having to answer all kinds of intrusive questions.
Two days later, I followed up with Al Million. The officer on the line told me that the driver in question was suspended for two days. He was reprimanded for his behaviour, and would be sent for counselling.
“That’s all?!” was my only reaction.
As per Al Million’s company policy, drivers are charged points with every complaint. If they cross the maximum point, they are terminated, and sent back home, the official explained.
If I wanted a stricter action, I would have to contact the management personally, he advised.
I hung up, wondering what was I really seeking here. An apology?
As a journalist, I am aware of the working conditions of karwa cab guys. Many of them work for over 18 hours per day, suffer from fatigue. In fact, like other blue-collared workers in the country, these drivers too come to Qatar with false promises only to have their contracts changed here. Their accommodation is deplorable, and savings, even more. But, did that in anyway excuse his behaviour? No.
I lost sleep that night. But I’ve lost something more precious. This feeling of safety in Qatar, that’s been my home since birth.