In 2008, when the Azad Foundation, an NGO based in Delhi, began training poor women to become drivers of commercial and private vehicles, most people thought they were somewhat out of touch with reality. Poor, illiterate women, many of them from violent homes, some of them single mothers, others from families and communities which had never allowed women to step out of the home – how could these women take the wheel, drive around in unsafe cities, be confident and competent, earn money? At the time, there was only one known woman auto driver in Delhi. When Azad turned to radio cab companies to suggest they take in women drivers, there wasn’t much interest. Today, more than 300 women drivers have received training from Azad and are on the roads of several cities. Nine years after radio companies turned Azad away, special services or women with women drivers are being introduced within these same companies. In 2015, the Delhi Transport Corporation got its first woman driver, and in 2016, the Delhi Commission for Women recruited 25 women drivers to be part of their women’s helpline. Clearly, things are changing.
Lady Driver maps the journeys of twelve women from poor, marginalized communities who have transformed their lives by taking up the challenge of becoming women drivers. Each story is unique; there’s no Cinderella effect here. Reality does not change overnight. Instead, as the women featured here painstakingly claim a relationship with the road, it translates into claims for identity, for dignity, for a livelihood. Their stories are about beginnings, but have no endings – there is still quite a way to drive.
About the Authors
Anita Mathur has worked in the field of Women’s Empowerment for more than 35 years. With a Masters degree in Rural Social development from the University of Reading, and a Masters in Social Work from Udaipur University, she is one of the Founder-Members of Astha Sansthan, Udaipur, which works for the empowerment of tribal and poor communities in Rajasthan. She has also been involved with various governmental and non-governmental organizations (such as Action Aid-Nepal, Cordaid, AagazAcademy, Hivos, Christian Aid, Oxfam-India, Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihood Project, and Rajasthan Mission on Livelihood). Her expertise lies in the field of Capacity Building, Evaluations and building gender perspectives. She is involved in developing training material and has written over 15 modules for the Azad WOW programme, and is author of a manual entitled ‘Training Elected Women Representatives’, and a set of 5 booklets on Gender and Development.
Deepti Priya Mehrotra has been active in the women’s and human rights movements since the 1980s. She is a political scientist who has taught at the University of Delhi and other institutions. Among her books is one on the Indian women’s movement, another on the lives of single mothers. She has also written on the Manipuri peace activist Irom Sharmila, freedom fighter Jaggi Devi, and traditional theatre artiste Gulab Bai, Deepti writes in Hindi and English. She works for various organizations, schools and universities as researcher, adviser, teacher and trainer. She is founder-Trustee of Sampurna Trust, an NGO based in Dakshinpuri, Delhi. Her current research is on Social movements and on feminist street theatre.
Jayawati Surivastava is former Director, Ankur-Society for Alternatives in Education. She has worked with women, young people and children in the slums of Delhi for over two decades. She has been active in the women’s movement, in campaigns against child labour, for the right to education as well as movements for the rights of displaced peoples, for dalits and tribals and many more.
Meenu Vadera, the Executive Director, of Azad Foundation, is a renowned feminist who has been conferred recognition for her work. She has worked nationally and internationally for over 27 years on a range of women’s issues including women and reproductive rights, women and land rights, women in governance, violence against women, women with HIV/ AIDs, and women living in conflict situations.
Runu Chakraborty has had a long association with the women’s and human rights movements in India and specifically in Delhi. With Action India, an NGO with whom she has long worked, Runu had the opportunity to work in Delhi’s neighbouring bastis, where she also listened to many stories, learnt many songs and acted in street plays, and shouted slogans in many demonstrations. She has been associated with Jagori from the beginning, and has also worked on the ground with Jagori and Mahila Samakhya, implementing the programme. Runu loves writing and has written for the journal Sabla, among others.
Srinivas Rao is Programme Director, Azad Foundation. In his career as a development professional he has taken up some important social innovation projects both in India and internationally. He has expertise in Participatory Planning and Research; he has implemented projects of Participatory City Planning, Leadership Development academies for elected leaders of local governments and advised state governments on key governance reforms. Prior to working with the Azad Foundation he has worked with ILO, PRIA and Aagaz Foundation.
Sunita Thakur holds a Masters and a PhD degree from Delhi University. She writes for magazines and journals on a regular basis. She works as a feminist counsellor and has also written on the experience and importance of such counselling. Her books include collections of poetry as well as books on the Hindi language, and on writers and writing.
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