A group of 40 women e-autorickshaw drivers are all set to hit the roads, shaking off hundreds of years of social barriers in their way. They are all slum dwellers.
Santwana Bharti, a social worker, has shaped their road to empowerment and financial independence. A resident of Bawanbigha locality of the town, Bharti has opened four driving schools across the town to empower women. Training is free of charge to all such women.
Bharti came across the idea on a visit to Murshidabad in West Bengal, three years back, where she got to know about the problems of such women. Her dreams is about to fructify, when most of the 40 women trainees at her driving institutes will hit the roads on March 11.
Ideally, she wanted them to get going from March 8 - the international women’s day - but got delayed in paper work.
“In Murshidabad, I saw women driving nearly 45 e-auto rickshaws, all in pink colour. It impressed me and I decided to emulate the experience and put it to use in Muzaffarpur,” said Bharti.
Urmila Devi (35), a resident of Bela Chapra village, is among the first six women drivers to benefit from the programme.
“My husband is a small trader and his earning is not enough to run the family. Today, I am no longer dependant on anyone. I can easily bear expenses of my family as I earn Rs 300 to 400 a day, driving the battery-operated autorickshaw,” said Devi.
“Apart from driving an e-autorickshaw, Urmila also trains other women. Seeing her driving skills, more women approached me for training. Meena (45) is among them, who has shown keen interest in the training programme,” said Bharti.
She, however, said that motivating them to the training programme was not so easy. “I had to face a lot of difficulties as it is a herculean task to break into a male preserve. Right from procuring learner’s driving licence to obtaining bank loans for e-autos , everything was difficult,” Bharti recalled.
Urmila said that she had to face strange reactions from her neighbours and relatives. “When some boys of my locality got to know that I was learning driving, they began taunting me, but such things never deterred me,” Devi signed off.