Cabs, by women for women

Even as the market for radio taxi players hots up, an organisation is quietly launching a car-hire service by women in the city.

By Chandrima S. Bhattacharya
  • Published 29.07.15

Even as the market for radio taxi players hots up, an organisation is quietly launching a car-hire service by women in the city.

The idea is to provide a 24x7 safe transport service for women by women.

Right-thinking men can hop in too.

Azad Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO that had launched its car-hire and chauffeur service with women drivers, Sakha, in Delhi in 2008, has quietly begun training 13 women in the city in driving. As it takes a year for a driver to get a commercial licence, the car-hire service will be launched at the end of 2016.

Sakha offers two other services: long-term chauffeur services and chauffeur-on-call, on the basis of hours.

The chauffeur services will be launched in the city in January or February 2016, before the car-hire service is launched.

The services have already started in Jaipur and will be started in Indore about the same time in Calcutta.

Whatever the stereotype is about the woman as a driver, the organisation's experience makes it confident that driving is empowerment. For driving a car is also about driving one's life.

Azad Foundation started Women on Wheels, its programme to train women as drivers to empower them with a non-traditional livelihood. Such a livelihood often proved more lucrative than a traditional one. The programme also aimed at helping survivors of domestic violence.

"It was to turn help-seekers into help-givers," said Meenu Vadera, secretary, Azad Foundation, who was visiting the city.

So how tough is it for women to be out in the roads, in big bad Delhi? Or anywhere for that matter?

In answer Vadera says the roads are no more unsafe for women than homes. In fact she feels homes are worse.

"The challenges women face at home are far worse than what they face outside," says Vadera. "Also the fact that these women have chosen to live without violence strengthens them more," she adds.

Women trained by the foundation have not yet faced any serious violence. They have not faced any from passengers, who are mostly women. In case they are men, they are known or have been recommended, since these services have to be booked in advance.

Since 2008, Azad Foundation has trained between 110-150 women drivers in Delhi. About 30 to 40 of them are working with other companies. The rest are still with Sakha, which also offers placement.

"One woman is working with Delhi Transport Corporation as a bus driver; two with ITC; another with Uber," says Vadera.

Azad Foundation works with other organisations. In Calcutta, it has linked up with Maruti Driving School for basic driving lessons. Then the trainees will be taught by the faculty of drivers and will go on self-drive.

But there will be many other trainings. First aid will be taught by St. John's Ambulance. Map reading will be taught by another organisation. Kolkata Sanved will teach confidence through dance therapy. Thoughtshop Foundation has mobilised the young women who are already in training. At the moment they are attending classes on basic traffic rules. Some of them look a little confused, though happy.

"You should come back six months later and see the difference," says Vadera.