After the State Government of Maharashtra introduced a scheme that reserved 5 percent of auto rickshaw licenses to women in 2016, some of the Mumbai women were quick to grab the opportunity. It was announced that 465 licences would be made available for women in Mumbai and the neighbouring district of Thane in Maharashtra.
This empowering scheme did provide a great avenue for the ladies to explore and I got to meet the gutsy ladies on 22nd of this month. Indian Women in Hospitality, has many Power Leagues headed by ladies who are all working towards giving back to the fraternity and the society. The CSR Power league’s Arti Handa, Soraya Rebello and Vidhi Vikram had planned an event to felicitate the lady autorickshaw drivers giving them certificate of appreciation and a box of sweets to cheer them on. They wanted me, the Founder of IWH to do the honours; an opportunity I didn’t want o miss out on. I will call myself a strong advocate of gender equity and inclusion for all, I was looking forward to listen to the empowering stories of the 15 ladies. Arti Handa had made impeccable plan and Piyali Saha joined us for the event.
The IWH Philosophy
Women empowerment refers to making women capable of deciding for themselves. Giving them the choices make them powerful which is one aspect of gender equity. Indian Women in Hospitality (IWH) is doing just that for the ladies in hospitality, tourism and wellness. IWH is a platform for knowledge sharing, networking, ideating, mentoring and empowering.
The key objectives are clearly mentioned in the vision and mission; they serve as a guide and the roadmap to be the global voice for Indian Women in Hospitality. The founder along with the core team has been working to amplify the IWH platform for Indian women working in the hospitality industry globally to reach their fullest potential by sharing knowledge and mentoring future leaders. Collaborating to strengthen their roles in all spheres of their lives – personal, professional and the community through self-reliance, dignity and equality. IWH has been supporting social causes that are meaningful and empower people specially women.
With the right mentoring and collaboration people can do wonders. They can contribute to and create great value not only for themselves but also for their communities or organisations. The government scheme for lady auto rickshaw drivers did just that coming as a huge relief to these ladies; only other option for them was to become domestic help, that had no social security and considerable chances of them being exploited.
These women rose to the occasion and took things in their stride. Some are still fighting all kinds of social stigma by taking up auto rickshaw driving as a profession. Some feel that the job is much better than doing household work. They can make more money and it helps them secure their futures. Some of them couldn’t even ride a bicycle, but today, they can drive auto rickshaw. They are independent, and it makes them happy.
Government Scheme for Women Auto Drivers
The government had earlier launched a pink taxi scheme, where women drivers would drive women all through the city. However, as Mumbai is a largely congested city and more people prefer an auto, it made sense to train women in driving auto rickshaws. Along with giving permits to them, the government also ensured that the colour of women-driven autos is different from the ones that men drive. This was to ensure that the auto rickshaws driven by women aren’t taken over by their male counterparts.
This event was planned for a Sunday morning as most of the ladies take a break that day being it a rest day or the day meant to be spent with the family. I reached Hiranandani Thane at the appointed time and reached the venue with Arti. The ladies were all there in their clean and well appointed rickshaws. All of them looking beautiful in their colourful sarees. They had spent time in their grooming to meet us and they looked just as happy and excited as us.
We greeted them and I did the small ice breaking session to make them comfortable and ready to mingle; I wanted to share their stories. There was no need for the ice breaking as they were very forthcoming and appreciated the fact that we were there to felicitate them. I spoke to all of them beginning with the first lady driver Anamika Avinash Bhalerao, who has been driving since the last 7 years. She learnt from her husband and then made it her profession. She has grown up children and they are quite supportive of her. In fact she inspired many other ladies to take up this profession.
Manisha Ravindra Koli – Has been driving for 6 years now after having worked for about 10 years.
Kalpana Nagraj Reddy – She was a cook for about 14 years, she then learnt to drive and auto and has been at it for over 3 years now.
Deepa Shivankar – didn’t like the long 8 to 9 hours job so now drives at her will and convenience,
Nirmala Satish Pawar – Has two school going daughters and finds driving a rickshaw convenient as she can drop her children to school, pick them up. Be around her place and be home to do her regular chores.
Savita Eknath Parkhe – Said that her husband wouldn’t get enough money so she learnt to drive to actually check what was the potential of earning livelihood. When asked what has been her finding she laughed saying that the potential was there and that she was able to save much more.
Sangeeta Bhausahed Baviskar – She works at a beauty parlour. Her husband got her a scooty so that she could get to work but she said that she didn’t learnt to ride it yet. On the other hand she picked up auto driving within two days. Now she runs the parlour and drives auto too.
Saroj Kailash Potphode – She has been nicknamed ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ after the brave queen Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. She says that at her stand there equality among men and women. There’s 1 auto driven by male and another by female; they would get their turns alternatively. She was felicitated in Delhi for the work that she was doing. She fondly shared her experience of flying to Delhi and back.
Rekha Santosh Gadge– She is a BCom graduate, has worked in Dubai too but then got into auto rickshaw driving 6 years ago. She is loving this phase of her life and career.
Meera Kameshwar Daije – Driving for almost 7 years now. Has the support of her family.
Ashwini Dev Dombale – Has been driving for 4 years now, learnt from her father.
Swati – has done BCom, was working as a cashier for about 10 years. She found auto rickshaw driving to be more of a fulfilling career for her.
Most of these ladies liked the idea of having a career that gave them independence and opportunity to earn their livelihood. Found it challenging at the same time quite fulfilling. Most of them were trained by their own family members.
During lockdown they have learnt to ride longer distances is what some of them told us. It was heartening to listen to their stories of philanthropy during these tough times. They said that 25 of them applied for essential services and they took out their autos for people who wanted to travel for essential services or goods or for hospital visits. They said that some of those rides were for free. This is true empowerment and selfless service. We salute these ladies and wish them more power and success. Also thank the government for launching such schemes.
It is my wish to help these ladies in terms of up skilling them and I already have some ideas in my mind. With time I am certain that it will materialise. When I told them that I would love to do some training sessions for them some of them were teary eyed. I know the gratitude that those eyes were expressing. Women don’t have it easy but when they have their hearts in any cause there’s no stopping them. Once they know and recognise their strengths and also learn of their weakness its easier to strengthen their strengths and weaken their weakness. That’s what makes us winners isn’t it? So lets empower ourselves and others around us.