Behind one of the peppiest tourist attractions of this holy city is a sad story. Sonia (19), Amritsar’s lone woman driver of battery-operated rickshaw, came into this male-dominated profession when her husband changed his course to drugs.
The pilgrims’ favourite is also a brave mother fighting the odds of life. On Women’s Day, she shared with Hindustan Times how her journey was not by choice but one that had led her to satisfaction somehow. “I have been running battery-rickshaw for four years now. My husband taught me to drive; he saw no harm in it. Today, like many others in this Punjab belt, he is hooked to drugs and I slog day and night to feed my child aged 2,” says Sonia.
Her day starts early and even late into night, she picks up people from the Golden Temple parking lot and drops them at the plaza. “Earlier, I drove my own rickshaw but it became unviable and I moved on to driving a rented one, for which I pay Rs 400 a day,” she says, “I need to take charge of the situation and be strong, as I have a child to look after. With the amount of hard work I put in, I earn quite well now. I’d recommend financial independence to every woman.”
“I’m not the only woman dealing with the drug addiction of a loved one but I am one of the few who decided not to sit home and cry over it,” says Sonia, adding: “I had a love marriage. Love remains but I can’t really rely on him now. I believe in doing hard work to make my life better. Every woman s hould; there is no other way out of this problem.”
‘Madam ka rickshaw’
Astonished tourists at the Golden Temple parking lot are heard saying to her: “Madam, humne aapke rickshaw pe jana hai (ma’am, we’ll go by your rickshaw),” and then they abandon the other rickshaws. “Hundreds of people in a day appreciate my work,” says Sonia, “I don’t seek sympathy. I take pride in my job. I don’t beg, I work, and it’s respectable. Some people pay me even three times the fare, for the joy and the unique experience of hiring a woman driver.”
It’s a male-dominated profession, “but in these four years, I have made a good rapport with the fellow drivers,” says Sonia, adding: “Yes, being a woman, I don’t have it easy, nor can I interact freely with everybody but God’s grace has never let me face any embarrassment. It helps that I am resourceful and people know me around in this area. I carry myself boldly. Women can’t be weak.”
There’s another thing that makes her unique in the profession — “I have never bribed anyone for the right to work in this area.”