Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pizza, delivered with a side of attempted rape

There’s one thing that an Indian household has always had: trustworthy strangers. Home delivery may be a modern term, but it’s been part of the average Indian home for decades. Thanks to people like the vegetable and fruit seller, the person who brings the ironed clothes and the domestic help, an Indian household is an ecosystem composed partially of strangers. In it, the food delivery man is a recent entrant, but he has quickly become entrenched in the daily routine of urban Indian households. Especially the pizza delivery boy.
According to a report by the National Restaurant Association of India, around 80% of consumers order in food at least twice a month at the minimum. Italian cuisine — which in home delivery terms consists mainly of pizza – is the most popular cuisine to be ‘ordered in’ in India. The pizza delivery boy is someone most people wait for anxiously and greet with a grin. He isn’t someone from whom we expect to need protection.

File photo of pizza. Image courtesy IBN Live
File photo of pizza. Image courtesy IBN Live

It’s this assumption that led to a young woman being assaulted and almost raped by a pizza delivery boy. A 17-year-old delivery boy returned after making an initial delivery on some pretext, and after attempting to rape the woman, bashed her head in, and then ran away.
Turns out, there is no official vetting process to decide delivery boys. Amar Jhunjhunwala, 46, who owns a fast food joint in Chembur that enjoys enthusiastic patronage from families in the neighbourhood, said, “I’ve never done a background check on a delivery boy, I have to admit. Why would I feel the need? And none of the other restaurant managers I know have done it either. It’s the most basic function of a restaurant.”
But can’t delivery boys at least be vetted as those who have been in the restaurant’s employ for a while? “It actually works the other way,” says Jhunjhunwala, who ran a burger joint in Andheri (East) for five years before starting his second restaurant in Chembur. “Boys work in delivery, and slowly make their way up to the kitchen and managerial roles. Of course, with this incident, I’m sure all restaurant owners are going to be very careful.”
Someone who won’t have a chance to be careful is the owner of Chovisum, the outlet whose delivery boy is guilty of assault and attempted rape. The owner, Swapnil Parab, has seen his business disappear since the incident. “The boy was a dropout who usually never makes deliveries,” Parab insisted in media reports in the Mumbai Mirror and the Hindustan Times. “It was just this time…he’s ruined my business.”
Is there any hope for a regulatory process to be enforced in the restaurant delivery business? According to a member of the National Restaurant Association of India, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, it’s almost impossible. “There are many neighbourhood restaurants which are not accounted for by us,” he said. But he admitted that more can be done to ensure a consumer’s safety. “An in-house vetting process should be non-negotiable.”
At present, the Food Safety and Standards regulations are the only rules by which Indian restaurants have to abide. These regulations cover aspects like salary and training of restaurant employees, but do not touch upon home deliveries, which are an increasingly important part of the Indian food industry.
Till then? Recently, after reading the report of the 25-year-old woman being assaulted by the Chovisum employee, a friend of mine and I tried to reconfigure the logistics of accepting home delivery.
“Should we keep the door-chain latched and pass the money through it?” she suggested.
“But a pizza won’t fit through the chain-gap,” I pointed out.
“I guess we could ask them to leave it outside, and take it when the delivery guy is done,” she said triumphantly.
So this could soon be the new guideline to prevent rape: skulk behind your door when receiving a delivery, wait till the sound of steps has faded away, then dart out quickly, grab your food and run back in.


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