| Sarita Devi drives her autorickshaw near Patna Junction on Sunday. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
The search for financial security has led a former schoolteacher to the driver’s seat of an autorickshaw.
Sarita Pandey, 32, used to earlier teach Hindi to students of a private school. On Sunday, she proudly drove her autorickshaw, hopeful of earning enough to make both ends meet for her family, and a little more.
“Earlier, I used to earn Rs 4,000 per month. My husband, who is also a teacher, earned the same. It was very difficult to meet family expenses,” she said.
So, when she learnt of the offer of Bihar State Autorickshaw Drivers’ Association to train women as drivers of the most common mode of public transport in Patna, Pandey grabbed the opportunity.
Now, she can hope to earn at least Rs 10,000 a month by working four to five hours a day, said the general secretary of the union, Raj Kumar Jha.
Sarita’s voice was overwhelmed with pride as she took the driver’s seat. “Sach kahun toh aaj main pehli baar kisi kaam ke liye apne aap par garv mahsus kar rahi hun (Honestly speaking, this is the first time I am feeling proud of doing something),” said the mother of two. “People came running to see my auto. I felt like a celebrity.”
Like her, nine other women, who have been trained by the union for three months, took out their vehicles on the road for commercial purposes for the first time on Sunday.
For most of them, the search for security is closely related to a striving for pride, self-respect and independence.
One of them, Anita Kumari, 25, used to work earlier as a security guard. “I used to work for 12 hours and all I got was scolding from my boss,” she said. “I shall work for three to four hours and there will be no one to supervise me. In my previous job, I had lost all self-respect. Now, I shall be independent.”
To protect their independence and dreams, the Bihar State Autorickshaw Drivers’ Association has taken a slew of measures. Only women or families would be able to book the prepaid autorickshaws from two booths — at Patna Junction and Agamkuan. Eve-teasers would find themselves on the wrong foot if they try their tricks with the women drivers, all of whom have been given martial arts training.