Eight residents of Delhi write open letters discussing sexual abuse and rape. In Part 2, a cab driver addresses his colleagues.
My dear brothers and sisters,
I am just a cab driver who neither has the education nor the life experience to preach, or give lessons to anyone. But I do have a message, which I wish to send across through this letter.
I came to Delhi almost a decade ago with dreams of improving my life. I was then a 22-year-old boy who had never stepped out of his village in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad district. My father, who was a farmer and a seasonal labourer, always stressed on the importance of education and toiled hard to give the best possible opportunities to my three siblings and me.
But, I was never good at studies. I failed my exams several times and repeated a few classes before I somehow managed to pass my class 10 board exams. After that, I tried my hand at several things — farming, mason work, sitting idle and ogling at women in the village.
I was 20-years-old when I learnt to drive and my father finally sent me to Delhi to find a job. Delhi, however, was not the city of my dreams. People would just walk past me and not notice me at all. From early morning to late night, women and men roamed around without any inhibitions.
When I started driving in Delhi, I used to feel offended by how outspoken women in the city were. They would shout at me for missing a turn, and argue for change and call me tum and tu. I used to consider them ill mannered and resent how their behaviour was in total contrast to how things were back in my village. There, a boy and a girl still cannot walk together and women do not dare remove their ghunghat, let alone boss men around.
I was scandalised and was hit by a huge culture shock in Delhi. Getting into fights with a man is different, but getting belittled by a woman seemed insulting. Sometimes during late-night pickups, female passengers wearing short clothes would get in my car and sit comfortably on the front seat. It used to make me uncomfortable.
“I was scandalised and was hit by a huge culture shock in Delhi. I realised it’s not the women who need to change. It’s me who had to.”
But that was the old me. As I grew in the city and gained some maturity, I gradually became broad minded. You get used to it also. Most importantly, I realised it’s not the women who need to change. It’s me who had to. I had to let go of my shallow thinking.
I found a trick to adjust to this modern environment that I would like to share with my brothers. Think of it this way – would you feel awkward if a man sat comfortably on the front seat and talked to you? Would you raise an eyebrow seeing a man smoke or him being in minimal clothes? No. So, why make such a big issue if a woman does the same things? A woman is as normal as a man.
The situation has gotten worse for us ever since a cab driver raped a female passenger sometime at the end of 2014. I do not disagree that some drivers who have just come from villages and have not seen modernity would get excited and do gandi harkat (bad things) with women. But I plead, not every driver is the same as that culprit. I am not that type, for sure.
“As drivers, we must behave like ‘guardians’ of the roads – dropping a woman to her house or where ever she is headed to.”
I want to tell my fellow cab drivers that our job is not only about dropping people to their destination and earning money. Each time we get a new booking from a customer, that person - be it a man or woman - signs an unwritten pact of safety and security with us. And we must be fully conscious of this and behave accordingly to set the right example. We have to win the faith of our passengers, especially the women who are so scared of us these days that they click pictures of our car and ourselves to share with their families for safety purposes.
As drivers, we must behave like ‘guardians’ of the roads – dropping a woman to her house or where ever she is headed to. Every journey that we safely complete is a badge of honour that we take back home to our families with a smile.
Sahil Tomar is a resident of Ghaziabad and ferries passengers for cab booking services, Ola and Uber.
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Let’s Talk About Rape features illustrations by Liza Donnelly, a celebrated New York-based cartoonist and writer best known for her work in The New Yorker Magazine. Next in the series: A teacher writes to her students.