A few students are learning autorickshaw driving to earn money during spare time
Another male bastion is set to be stormed. The streets of Patna, considered till recently to be most vulnerable and quite unsafe for women, will soon have autorickshaws being run by girls/women. A select group of girls, for the first time in Patna’s chequered history, has volunteered to learn driving skills. After a one-month rigorous training, these girls would ferry passengers in autorickshaws.
Neha Sharma is studying law, but is keen to learn autorickshaw driving. Clad in a track suit, she reaches the Bihar Veterinary College ground every Sunday to get tips for auto driving from trainers who have been especially roped in by the Bihar State Autorickshaw Drivers’ Association. “I am a first year student of LLB. Since I am financially dependent on my parents, I thought why not learn autorickshaw driving and earn a few extra bucks which will serve as my pocket money,” said the girl in her early 20s.
Her classmate Kirti, who is also pursuing a law course, and has opted to learn three-wheeler driving, opined that some people still treat this as a menial job. “But for me, koi kaam bada ya chota nahin hota (no job is big or small). And it’s far better means to earn a livelihood than commit a crime and eventually land yourself in trouble,” said the would-be lawyer, who is sincerely learning the basic nuances of driving.
Besides practical training, the select group of girls is also taught about the traffic rules, Motor Vehicles Act and some steps to attend to minor faults in the three-wheelers.
But given the situation when one often hears of crime against women, is it safe for women to drive an autorickshaw? “We are well aware of sexual harassment of women. This is precisely why we have adopted a two-pronged safety approach for them,” Raj Kumar Jha, president of the Bihar State Autorickshaw Drivers’ Association, told Deccan Herald.“As a first step, only women passengers will be allowed to board an auto being driven by a woman/girl. If a male member is accompanying the woman passenger, he can board it. But under no circumstances, any male-- single or in groups – will be allowed to board it,” he said.
Jha, whose brainchild is this bold move, said that another safety aspect will be the limited area through which these autos will ply. “The girls, after thorough training, will ply their vehicles from airport and railway stations – the two zones considered relatively safe for women. After observing the experiment and getting feedback, we will add new routes accordingly,” said Jha, who personally monitors that the girls and women do not face any hassles.
“As of now, this is a free-of-cost training. So apart from practical training, we are focussing equally on theory classes (which takes place at Jamal Road) where the girls are told about traffic rules, Transport Department guidelines, motor vehicle acts, vehicle parking and behavioural theory (how to cope with rowdy passengers),” said Jha.
Sudha is one such student who, despite being a mother of three children, is learning the ropes of driving an autorickshaw. She frequents from Veterinary College ground to Jamal Road to keep herself abreast with training as well as theory. “I am not participating in this training programme to set an example for others. All I want to do is to prove to myself that I can take up challenging jobs. At the end of the day, my family should feel proud that I too can contribute (whatever little bit) through auto driving,” said Sudha, who is in her mid-30s, but is not worried about the impending problem she might face.
“Often we face eve-teasing problems while commuting in autos or bus. But I will ensure that no such incidents take place in my vehicle. Or else, the miscreants should be ready to get a befitting
reply from me,” said Sudha, whose confident level has, of late, increased.
Neha echoes her sentiments. “Today, girls have become astronauts, pilots, cops and lawyers. There is not a single field where you can’t find women competing with men. In certain fields, they have proved to be better than men. So, why eyebrows are being raised when young girls are learning to drive autorickshaw,” she questioned.
But social scientist and a retired professor RC Sinha summed up her query. “In all other fields – be it aviation, space, court or police, women have been competing with educated men. Here the girls will be pitted against semi-literate men who take to auto-driving when they could not do anything better in life. Hence, these girls become vulnerable,” opined the septuagenarian professor.
But Jha is confident and feels that law and order won’t be a hindrance. “There should not be any doubt that law and
order have improved immensely over the last few years. So these girls should feel confident and emboldened while carrying out their duties. Besides, our association members will also be keeping a tab on movement of vehicles run by girls. Apart from this, the Bihar Government’s Transport Department and traffic police will also extend a helping hand. And even if some people remain apprehensive, we can’t help much,” he signs off reciting a popular Hindi number of 1970s, “Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kam hai kehna.”