Women taxi drivers make their way to Indian roads

Women in India are choosing to make a living driving cabs. Authorities say they want at least 500 lady drivers before the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Dehli.

But little is being done to make the roads and their male counterparts friendlier.

Delhi’s roads are notorious for rash driving and poor traffic discipline. But it’s overcoming India’s tradition of male-only taxi drivers that’s proved the biggest barrier to women like Suchita Jaiswal joining that profession.

Six months ago she was a housewife. But Suchita wanted to learn how to drive, and is now one of twenty women in the city proudly driving cabs.

“Driving here is not easy, it’s a challenge. On the road, some men misbehave with us, while others compliment us. But we manage. We ignore the men who try to intimidate us,” says Suchita, who now woks for the Forshe taxi service.

This taxi service was recently launched in Delhi to cater especially for women. It gives female passengers added peace of mind.

Safety is a concern for the women drivers too. A Delhi-based NGO has started a two-month program that trains girls from poor families to become drivers. The trainees are learning self-defense techniques to better protect themselves on the roads.

Rubina Khan, 19, found this changed the way she drives:

“I used to be very scared while driving, that someone would hit the car or harass me. But now I drive very confidently, and don’t let other drivers intimidate me. This self-defense training has helped me a lot – if a man harasses me, I slap him. I’m not scared now.”

Convincing girls from poor families to come forward is the biggest stumbling block. In India’s middle class, women have been driving a long time, but for poor families, letting their daughters go out to work as a driver is an alien concept.

Twenty- year-old Chandni refused to take up stereotypically ‘female’ work like sewing or cooking. She was lucky as her family was supportive. Her father Pyarelal overcame his initial skepticism and gave her his blessing.

“In my family, no girl is allowed to do a man’s job. So I was scared in the beginning to tell my father. But I plucked up the courage to tell him. He was very supportive, and has been my biggest support till now,” she said.

Still, many male cabbies in Delhi are convinced women aren’t good enough drivers. Taxi driver Sohan Singh is not at all complimentary of his female colleagues.

“Ten per cent of women drivers drive properly, but the remaining 90 per cent don’t know how to drive at all. They don’t follow the rules and drive in the centre of the road. You can keep blowing your horn, but they won’t give way,” he says.

Criticism like that doesn’t deter girls like Chandni. She’s applied for a commercial license to work as a driver. Earning 100 dollars a month means she could then take control of her life, and follow her own road.