| Dipali Rajkhowa at the inauguration of the city bus service at Kachari bus stop in Guwahati on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, July 23: Dipali Rajkhowa had chosen to “drive” off the beaten track and step into a male bastion when in 1989, as a 20-year-old, she became the first woman city bus driver here. Today, when she took the wheel of a city bus, one among a fleet dedicated to women, she was all smiles and a tad nostalgic.
No longer a city bus driver, she relived memories of the past as she steered the bus for a few metres during the flag-off ceremony of the all-woman bus service introduced by the Kamrup metro district transport office here this morning.
“It brought back memories of yesteryears. I owned the bus and after obtaining a permit from the district transport office, I also drove it. Basically, I was in love with what I was doing then. So much so that I could even guess how many passengers had taken the bus ride during the day and also how much money was earned,” Dipali told The Telegraph.
The 10 buses introduced for women and children below eight years started plying on the Khanapara-Kachari route in two shifts — 7am to 11am and 3pm to 8pm — from today. “I am happy that the service has been introduced. It will go a long way in making commuting in the city a wonderful experience for women. The transport office should also introduce air-conditioned 12-seater buses for women,” Dipali said.
Assam chief secretary Jitesh Khosla flagged off the bus service. “The city’s transport system needs to be gender-neutral, one that empowers women apart from ensuring their safety. Participation of women in the economic life of the city is imperative,” he said.
Sixteen women conductors, smartly clad in sky-blue shirts and navy blue trousers, were provided licences by the transport department at the function. As of now, the buses will be driven by men. “We will have women drivers soon,” Khosla said.
Speaking at the function, Kamrup (metro) deputy commissioner in-charge M. Angamuthu said the initiative was a pilot project and 10 more buses for women, all custom-made, would be introduced in phases.
“Six of the buses introduced today belong to private operators and the rest to the Assam State Transport Corporation. Closed-circuit TV cameras have been installed in the buses. Very soon, we will introduce custom-made buses. There may be a few glitches initially. We welcome feedback and suggestions for improvement of the service,” he said.
Actor Zerifa Wahid, brand ambassador of the service, said the buses need to have their own identity, one that highlights the concept of beauty. “Apart from looking beautiful, I hope the service will be a beautiful journey for women, be it students, office-goers or the elderly,” she said.
Dwijen Das, secretary of the Kamrup regional transport authority, said the department has invited applications from women drivers. “The department will train them. We have also got in touch with a training institute here for women bus drivers,” he added.