New Delhi, March 21 (IANS) Surabhi Pandey, a single mother of two, feels happy to be a cab driver. She used to work as a domestic help and was apprehensive about venturing out alone in a car in the national capital. But now she knows how to handle lewd remarks and lecherous looks when behind the wheels.
Like other women chauffeurs, the 35-year-old knows it is not easy to drive a taxi in Delhi. But she has not quit since the job has given her financial independence and confidence to work in a man’s world.
“I have been driving for six months. It is not an easy job. But I will not quit. I know how to handle lewd remarks,” Pandey, whose husband died 10 years ago, told IANS.
“I keep my cool and ignore such comments. But I find it difficult to handle men drivers. When they see a woman driving a car, they hoot, chase and try to overtake. It sometimes gets scary,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it earlier if I had faced a similar situation. But I’m more confident now,” said Pandey, who mostly picks up staff of a private company.
Delhi has around 100 women cab drivers. And the demand for women drivers is growing ever since the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in the city Dec 16, 2012.
There are many cab companies in Delhi but some, like Sakha Wings Consulting, exclusively cater to women passengers who need a safe mode of transportation. They have 10 women drivers, but have 45 women working as private chauffeurs on a yearly contract.
Neelam Devi, 38, is another cab driver. She said it was not easy to be one.
“The safety of women drivers is not guaranteed. Every day, at least once I meet someone who makes a derogatory remark. For the first few months, I was scared. But now I know how to handle such a situation and I retort,” said Devi, who has been driving cabs for a year.
Sunita Chaudhry, the first woman auto-rickshaw driver of the city, said she faced a lot of difficulties when she started out.
“Sometimes people don’t give fares. Harassment is common. But I ignore them and focus on work,” she told IANS.
She said she trained around 400 women to ride but many did not opt for it as a profession due to the harassment they face.
“Many women are scared. Getting a permit is also difficult. It took me three years,” Chaudhry said.
The situation may however change for them with the Delhi transport department encouraging women to drive auto-rickshaws. The decision was taken after the gang-rape incident.
“Women who have a valid licence and a public service vehicle certificate will be given priority when permits are issued. Free training will also be provided,” a transport official told IANS.
Although there are few takers for driving auto-rickshaws at the moment, women are coming forward to drive cabs. This is also fuelled by the fact that women passengers specifically ask for women chauffeurs.
Sujata, who works for Gcabs, feels the job gives her financial security and wants other women to join.
“I want more women to join this field,” said the 32-year-old, who earns around Rs.15,000 a month and has been working for four years.
Her day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.
Her company, Gcabs, has around 25 women-only cabs alongside its regular ones, but sends its women drivers home before 8 p.m.
“Safety is a priority. So we have women cab drivers till 8 p.m. All our cabs are equipped with panic buttons that can alert our vigilance team in case of an emergency,” Babita Nihal, the company’s chief executive officer, told IANS.
The company teaches them martial arts.
“The women drivers are well-equipped to manage adverse situations. They are trained by the women’s wing of Delhi Police and carry a pepper spray,” said Nayantara Janardhan, chief operating officer, Sakha Wings Consulting.
Her company runs cab services only for women and men are allowed only if accompanied by women passengers.
(Prathiba Raju can be contacted at [email protected])