The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Driving to a goal of equality
Chaitali Chatterjee

This woman has clocked up many firsts, from refereeing to driving. But for Chaitali Chatterjee, steering life by her own rules is what is important. And being a woman has not deterred her from pursuing her dreams, be it playing professional football or driving a bus.

Brought up with three brothers, the woman from Belghoria admits to being a tomboy from childhood. Doing everything they did, and doing it better, mattered most to this 30-something woman of substance. “I have always been more interested in playing ‘male’ sports,” she states matter-of-factly. But while cricket was a pastime, soccer was a passion.

So it was that this die-hard Mohun Bagan fan went on to represent Bengal in the women’s national league, 1999 and 2000. And in the six-odd years that she was a member of the Income Tax team, Chaitali had more wins than losses, playing in the right-half position. The para games proved to be a valuable training ground.

The crowning glory in this woman’s soccer story came in October 1995, when she became the first female referee in Asia on the football field. Refereeing has been her top priority ever since. From women’s league to men’s matches, in the second division, Chaitali takes her responsibility seriously. Having scored her last goal in March 2001, her priority now is refereeing. But she has no regrets about hanging up her boots.

She’s single by choice and coping comfortably in a man’s world. Driving a bus is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it comes naturally to her. Every day, from Ultadanga to Ruby Hospital, Chaitali drives a battery-powered bus, ferrying passengers to and fro. Although it is an “entirely different” experience to driving a car, she remains unfazed.

“As far as I know, I am the only woman bus driver in the city. In the beginning, it was scary, and I even had a small accident once. But after a few times, I got used to it. I am very careful, because it is a big responsibility, having peoples’ lives in your hands. But it is my job,” she says.

And therein lies the crux of the problem of women’s lib, feels Chaitali. “How can you expect women to become equal to men and move forward in life if no one is willing to give them jobs' They need a source of economic independence first, before they can think about anything else. But there are very few people offering jobs to us. I was lucky, and the government also helped, but there aren’t too many like me,” she laments.

Doing her bit, however, counts as a small step for womankind, she feels. And the “little social work” that Chaitali does for the less fortunate in her neighbourhood — she calls it “my duty” — is just one of the facets of this modern woman.

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