Driving home a point
Abandoned by family, these women from small towns perhaps know best what it means to have nothing; no food, no shelter and no support. But they were rescued from inevitable penury by an unexpected saviour, a driving academy for women.
May 15 marked the graduation of For-She Academy’s first batch of 56 women. Twenty-five of them landed jobs to drive employees and visitors of an auto company. The rest will be hired as security guards, says Revathi Roy, who heads the academy in Mumbai. Of course, driving is not every woman’s cup of tea, admits Roy. “Those who don’t have the aptitude are trained to be security guards,” she says.
Among them is 30-year-old Raju Chergat. Driven out by her brother in Madhya Pradesh, she was rounded up by the police at Mumbai’s Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus and lodged in a remand home. Entrusted with the job of cleaning the superintendent’s car, she fidgeted with the steering wheel. The remand home in-charge noticed this and allowed her to learn driving. For months she drove on empty roads. Once the academy discovered her, things changed. Raju now has a job and earns Rs 8,500 a month. She owns a room and aspires to buy a flat.
Her batchmate is Kusum Kalug, 50, whose life came to a standstill with the death of her husband. Her children took control of their father’s savings and threw her out of the house. Kusum looked around for jobs, but no one was willing to hire her. “I was too old. Being a police officer’s widow, I also needed something respectable.” She roamed streets with nowhere to go. “My self-respect would not allow me to beg. I was losing my mind,” she says.
Having enrolled with the academy, Kusum is training to be a security guard. “I could not afford the enrollment fee but was admitted on the condition that I would repay the money, once I am employed” she says. Kusum now believes that life can begin at any age. “I’m learning martial arts. I’m doing things I didn’t do when I was young. The women here have washed my fears away,” she says.
Sunita Kamble is a single parent of an eight-year-old. “My husband cheated on me. I wanted to teach him a lesson. I took up a small-time job, but could not afford a monthly train pass. I traveled without a ticket until I was caught. My employer also sacked me,” she says, fighting back tears. Thanks to the academy, Kamble is all set to be a security guard and earn a decent living.
The women file into class at Andheri in Mumbai, as early as 8.30 am every day. Martial arts apart, they are trained in topography, basic manners, personal hygiene, and driving. The action-packed schedule leaves the women very little time to brood over the past.
The trainees sign a contract with the terms that they cannot quit the jobs provided by the Academy for two years. But for them it is not an obstacle, but an opportunity: to be empowered and live a life of dignity.