Women fight odds for success on Kashmir roads

Women fight odds for success on Kashmir roads

With financial independence, the trend of driving is changing in conflict-hit Kashmir. These days more women tread hard to make a way into lanes and bylanes of Srinagar by crossing over the zebra marks which some years back men considered their privileged benchmark.

For many of these women drivers, necessity has been the driving factor and for some passion. The sheer convenience of driving one’s own car makes these women fight the odds and drive their way to success and freedom.

Notwithstanding the obvious gestures or comments from men, women on wheels are making their way into the male bastion. But that comes with a price at times as they bump occasionally only to annoy men, who blame them for foraying into “territory of power.”

There are no exclusive instructors for women in Kashmir. In some cases, women may offer a few tips to learners.

According to an official of Regional Transport Office Kashmir, thousands of women have obtained driving licences from the office and many more are applying in the last few years.

“The percentage of cars registered by women in the city has also increased in the last few years,” he said.  “Some of women drivers are confident and fare better than men during the driving tests,” he added.

Farzana Gulzar, who teaches at Business School of Kashmir University, still remembers her first drive in 2010. “It was not a good experience. As I was trying to learn driving everyone along the roadside, even girls were staring at me. However, I was determined to learn and today I can drive to any place,” she told Deccan Herald.

Farzana believes driving brought freedom for her. “Earlier, I had to wait for my husband to drop me or spend a good sum on auto. But ever since I learnt driving, life has changed. I can return home alone even late in the evening,” she said.

For Shaista, a university student, it was only after three months of rigorous practice that she was confident of driving a car. “That day I was a bit nervous. A failure to manoeuvre well could invite a derisive look from others and an endless trouble for me at the university. The practice helped me,” she recollected her first day of driving independently. Since then there was no looking back for Shaista, now a married woman.

Asked whether driving adds to one’s status, she replied with a smile, “Of course.” Now it’s not women alone who aspire to drive, even their families are an interested lot. It has also given a sense of liberation to women from the daily hassle and eve-teasing they face in public transport. “Travelling in buses was an ordeal as I had to avoid lecherous glance of men,” she said.

However, Shaista says society is still reluctant to accept women drivers. “Male drivers are often critical of you. Although educated people don't criticise much but bus drivers and autorickshaw drivers are a problem,” she added. Fahmeeda Bhat, a retired government school teacher, says when she started driving a car in late 1980s there were a few ladies in Srinagar who drove a car.

Recalling her earlier days of driving, she said, “There was too much of criticism in those days. Drivers and shopkeepers used to laugh at me and pass comments in those days. I don’t feel there is any criticism now.”

When Omar Bhat of uptown Srinagar got married, he volunteered to get his better half trained to drive his Santro car. “It’s no fashion but need of the hour. People need it naturally. If a woman doesn’t know driving these days I believe she is handicapped,” he says.

Driving schools in Srinagar are also seeing a change. At a driving institute in Srinagar suburb, women form the majority of students. “At times, the student (woman) is a bit afraid whether she would be able to face traffic in real life or not. After some counselling the fear makes way for confidence and they start doing well,” said an instructor at the institute.

Traffic authorities say the past five years have brought a “phenomenal surge” in the trend. A senior official in the Traffic Department says interestingly, women are more seasoned drivers than men. “They’ve got better control, don’t indulge in rash driving or over speeding. As common experience they are supposed to be more conscious drivers,” he said.

Dr Asima Hassan, who teaches Sociology at a  college in Srinagar, says the trend can be attributed to several factors, including rising education levels and increased career opportunities. “As more women move out of homes now for education and jobs, driving has become a necessity for them. Earlier, a girl in Kashmir travelling alone in a bus or driving would not be seen in good light. But that has changed now,” she told Deccan Herald.

Asima said women drivers tend to have respect for traffic rules, take fewer chances and are more careful and are thus safer and more proficient. “They are more obedient and comply with traffic regulations. Men tend to be more opportunistic in their driving while women are more responsible and orderly. Society would benefit if all motorists would assume the preferred driving style of women,” she added.


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