India’s Uber misery

December 7th: An Uber car driver rapes a young woman of 26 in Delhi.

The alleged rapist who confessed had a criminal past, of attempted molestation, for carrying illegal weapons. In 2011 and 2013 he was involved in cases of rape and robbery. He still managed to get a clean chit from the Delhi police department when he approached his employer, despite having not one, but four blemishes on his name! The authenticity of the character certificate that he produced is being looked into. Nevertheless, this throws a grim light on what the Indian law and order system lacks: order. The system of obtaining a background check is a mess and is one of the primary reasons behind the rape of the young lady.

India’s background checking system is hinged on the police honoring such requests. The police, however, have the right to not entertain any such requests. Some states and police commissioners have a mechanism in place which addresses requests to check the background of a would-be employee. Some, and it can be argued (not substantiated) that too many, police officers would issue a certificate of character, without authorization, for a price.

This system of background checking is undoubtedly faulty, so much so that numerous employers and clients of those employers have suffered losses monetarily and now, of life. Now, there are intermediaries who are willing to do the background checks for an individual (to be submitted to the employer) or for an employer (background check of the employee). They take a fee for their services, which is to get the check done by the police department of the state. Since, as mentioned earlier, the system is sloppy, the intermediary’s certificates are also half-done, albeit done quickly. The quickness of a background check would leave an equal amount of gaps in the check itself.

A flawed background check system is an article written in The Hindu by R. K. Raghavan, fromer director of CBI and D. Sivanandan, former DGP of Maharashtra. In this piece they have categorically stated that the lack of a national criminal records system has led to the unfortunate incident in Delhi. If there were a system in place to verify the character or history of a person, which is efficient and accessible, why would anyone be handed false certificates of character? What we need is a comprehensive Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems. The current system which has not covered many states has to be expanded, and done so quickly. More than an administrative, this seems to be a technical failing. Why has one of the world’s most important exporter of software engineers failed to put in place a system that acts like the most basic ERP for law and order?

Uber did its job. It followed the rules of obtaining a character certificate of the employee. But it did not account for the fact that the Indian background checking system itself is flawed.

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