Shades of pink
Have you seen a taxi called Pink in the city recently? This is an offshoot of Red Taxi, driven by women and meant only for women customers. Suganya, the person in charge, explains that the idea was mooted when Red Taxi began five years ago. “But we couldn’t get drivers back then.” However when a couple of women approached them asking if they could drive a taxi, they decided the time was right, “especially since there is a sense of fear given the number of crimes against women,” says Suganya.
Pink was flagged off in March this year and has been well received, according to Suganya. “One customer told us that she sat in the front passenger seat for the first time,” she laughs, adding that the most frequent reaction is “that they feel safe. They chat with the drivers and are not worried if the destination is far away or the road is isolated.”
Something that Priyadarshini and Radha, both drivers with Pink, reiterate. “We exchange stories and talk almost through the entire journey,” they say. Twenty-five-year-old Priyadarshini, who has a diploma in automobile engineering, joined the company only two months ago while 37-year-old Radha has been driving a cab for six months. Neither thinks the job is in any way unusual, but admit they get surprised looks from other commuters. While some men say things like “You women are taking over all our jobs”, the majority of the reactions have been positive. Priyadarshini says other motorists often let her pass or offer help if she seems to be in trouble. While Radha agrees with her colleague, she has another point to make. “All this is true when we are driving the taxi. When I drive my own car, the reaction is different. It is more negative and sometimes veers into harassment. It’s almost as if the company’s name on the taxi offers some protection.”
This was one of the reasons her husband was initially hesitant about her decision to join Pink. “I was a tailor and I thought by doing this, I could help other women,” she says proudly. She talked her husband around by “showing him all the safety measures in place. Finally he agreed, more so because we have a 15-year-old daughter about whom we constantly worry.” Priyadarshini’s family was very supportive, she says. “After all they let me study automobile engineering. Why would they object to this?” she says combatively.
Suganya emphasises that the company takes women’s safety very seriously. “They have to clock 10 hours between 6.00 am and 10.00 pm,” she explains. “They have family responsibilities too so this allows them to choose their starting time. But we don’t have women drivers at night.” Radha says many of the drivers work 12-15 hours with Priyadarshini adding that, since they get breaks, it’s not as tiring as it seems.
A long way off
In 2017, Meenakshi Sai drove from Coimbatore to London with an all-woman team. A total of 27,800 km. Earlier this year she set off again where she logged 21,600 km as she drove from here to St Petersburg. Yet, she says, as a woman driver, she has faced a lot of discrimination.
“I hear it quite regularly: ‘women are terrible drivers’. It’s universal and not just in India,” she says and demands to know where is the evidence that supports this stereotype.” If there has been an accident and there is a woman motorist involved, it’s assumed that she was in the wrong. Men may not admit to faults in their own driving, but they can be very critical of women drivers.” Not just on the roads, Meenakshi is torn between amusement and anger as she narrates her experience of sitting next to a guy on a flight. “When a woman’s name was announced as the pilot in the aircraft, the guy next to me commented, ‘it’s going to be bad landing and I hope I get home alive’. It is time people stop targeting women unfairly and labelling them as terrible drivers.”
Wheels of change
Recently, Kovai Makkal Sevai Maiyyam felicitated women drivers in the city. “It was amazing to know that Coimbatore has over 60 women drivers who ply the taxis and autos regularly. And, one of them has been doing so for over 25 years!” Vanathi Srinivasan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu BJP and the founder of Kovai Makkal Sevai Maiyyam says she learnt about women auto drivers when her usual driver did not turn up and a woman came to pick her up. “I chatted with her and asked her a lot of questions about how many hours she put in every day and so on. We got them and the Pink Taxi women drivers together and felicitated them. It was not just about honouring these women, useful information was shared about insurance policies and other central government schemes that is of great benefit to them.”
- The Inner Wheel Club of Coimbatore, which focuses on helping women and children, handed over autos to five women. Gomathi Viswanathan, past association president of Inner Wheel Club, says, “We have made the down payment and the first EMI. It’s our golden jubilee year and we wanted to do something special. We create employment opportunities for women and even train them by offering driving lessons and so on. It helps them stand on their own feet.”
Sixty-five women drivers attended the event. Over 10 enrolled to buys taxis and autos under the Mudra scheme that provides loans to women to start small and micro enterprises. “We have received eight applications from auto drivers, two for taxis, and another two from transgenders.” Vanathi has also proposed to set up a union for women drivers. “The women auto drivers are not allowed to park their vehicle at stands owned by men. We should have women’s colleges set up exclusive women auto stands next to their institutions, as can hospitals and hotels. Organisations like the Rotary Club and Inner Wheel Club also support such initiatives.”
Vanathi adds that it is time more women were seen in the service sectors. “It’s always comforting to see a woman in the driver’s seat when you are hiring a cab or auto. These women are bold and confident. Initiatives like these generate employment and empowerment.”
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