An avid music lover, Shilpa Soni does not attend any concerts. “I cannot ask my husband to pick me from such programmes all the time and I just don’t trust the auto-walahs to take me home safely late in the evening,” Soni adds.
Soni is one of the thousands of women in Delhi, who have time and again felt the need of a safe reliable public transport at all hours. And after Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s reported comment about girls moving out at odd hours on the capital’s street as “adventurerous”, such a service becomes more imperative.
Points out Women Power Connect’s Ranjana Kumari, “It’s a fact that there is no such safe public transport. The other day coming out of a programme, I saw several women stranded outside the venue. If we think of reasons why women don’t prefer taxis or autorickshaws driven by men at night, we find, there is not enough enforcement and hence men get away saying “hamara koi kuchch nahi bigaadega’.”
Such predicament of women led Meenu Vadera to venture into an as-yet-all-male service of taxi drivers. “Over the years, more and more women are moving about on Delhi roads. During my travels abroad, I regularly saw women taxi drivers and ever since I returned here in 2003, I have been thinking why such a thing cannot happen here?” she asks.
Once the idea to start such a service for women came to her mind, Vadera, who is the secretary of an NGO Azad Foundation, directed her efforts through her organisation towards first selecting women and more importantly training them. “There is this gap in the need and availability and we are trying to bridge that gap,” Vadera says.
South-Delhi Azad Foundation is currently training a batch of nine young girls from economically backward homes living in various south Delhi localities.
The women are undergoing training in driving skills (at an authorised driver’s training park), self-defense and communications ahead of their actual tenure as taxi drivers.
The batch, training for which started in November first week, is expected to take to wheels 3-4 months later. “Once their training is over, we will be helping these girls in placements. Only after we have a pool of 50-60 trained women, then we will put in place the ‘Caring Cab’ service,” Vadera says.
The young women undergoing training themselves are thrilled at the prospect of driving taxis.
“The self defense training has given me confidence that I can not just defend myself, but my female customer too,” says Reeta Kumari, one of the trainees.