Until five years ago, Vasanthi Meghanathan, a part-time teacher, had never travelled in a car. From driving multi-utility vehicles to training women to drive luxury cars on weekends, she does it with aplomb now.
“Working as a call taxi driver was a challenge, your assignment is never planned and it took me time to get used to long drives,” says Ms.Meghanathan, the only female van driver at Chennai Public School. There are many people and organisations that prefer having women behind the wheels, including as instructor. While some of these women have braved dissent at home, others have learnt to face road rage and other challenges on roads.
Non-profit charitable organisation Association for Non-Traditional Employment (ANEW) has trained 92 women to drive cars and 29 to drive autorickshaws. “But, according to our records, only 32 women have taken to driving cars as a career,” says V. Subbaiyan, administrative manager, ANEW. Since 2004, Speed Trust, an NGO, has trained 16 women to drive autorickshaws. Women need lot of motivation to take up such jobs. Besides occupational hazards, safety matters in the shift they chose, say sources in the organisations.
“All these careers are determined by individual choices and people around them. While Chennai has largely been a safe city, one must invest in prevention irrespective of the crime rate,” says Anupama Srinivasan, Programme Director, Prajnya.
Autorickshaw drivers such as Bhavani Lawrence and M. Akhila make sure they wind up their last trip before 8 p.m. “I don't do overtime as rash driving is common during night,” says Ms. Lawrence, who has been on the job for eight months. “Driving a three-wheeler is not easy and I get body pain in the evenings. If I get loan I want to migrate to cabs,” says Akhila.
Women drivers say hostility on the road comes in many forms such as men following them and road rage. Some learn from experience – they avoid taking deserted roads or driving late.
“I tell my students not to drive when they are tense and never to compete with other vehicles,” says L. Priya, an instructor at ABT Maruti.