24 year-old Kavita is a rebel. She rebelled against everything that held her back and became one of the first female drivers in India. It is a known fact that women in India have always faced limited options and lived with predetermined rules of society. Putting women in a box where women are denied to dream of freedom but Kavita did, and finally broke off and headed straight to the roads, which meant freedom for her.
She put her heels on wheel and became a taxi driver, fighting all the odds at her home and the remarks from relatives and neighbours. “I was very young when I saw someone driving. It looked so nice and I thought of driving too. I come from a family where girls are not allowed to drive and I didn’t have much money to buy my own car,” said Kavita, who lied from her father to learn driving. “My mother supported me. She and I lied to my father and told him that I was going for a computer class. He never doubted us,” recalled Kavita.
Turning dreams into reality
Kavita enrolled herself at Azad Foundation, a group that supports rural women’s empowerment. It took her six months to complete her driving lessons and another three months to receive her driving license. “My father received the license and he was so happy to see that. That was the first day when he got to know that I was going to driving classes and not the computer class,” she said.
Getting her license was the first milestone for Kavita but the life after that was not easy. Being one of the youngest child in the family of eight members, Kavita saw the economical challenges in the family. Her father, a factory labour was the only earning member in the house. Her two sisters were married and Kavita had no such plans.
“My father is the only breadwinner and had eight mouths to feed. We all have little education. He earned 400 rupees a day. I feel I matured at a very young age and wanted to support my father. I wanted to live my dream and support my family,” expressed the 24-year-old.
Facing sexism and gender stereotypes
Growing up Kavita dreamed about joining Delhi Police Force but fell short of height. After learning to drive, she thought of joining Delhi Road Transport. But there too, her height played the villain. She, then started driving Uber taxi and the reality struck. “I would all day imagine myself driving around the city but when I started driving, no passenger wanted to board my cab. Most of the time they would cancel the ride because I was a female driver. Sometimes, they would receive my call and say, ‘we booked Uber’. When I would tell that I will be driving, they would cancel the ride and say ‘do you even know how to drive’,” shared Kavita adding that male taxi drivers are the toughest to deal with.
“They don’t accept a woman driver. It’s very difficult to go on a fuel station. The male drivers pass on sexist comments. They say, ‘if you will drive then we have to sit home’. I feel so upset. Most of the time I ignore them, but sometimes, I tell them to sit home and let their daughters work instead,” she rued adding that every now and then she meets people who discourage her, “Many a times women as well. But I have met some people who have encouraged me to continue with my passion,” she said.
“One day, I drove an American woman visiting India on a business trip to the airport. She showed me genuine appreciation and it moved my heart. We talked a lot during that drive about my journey and about hers. After pulling up to the airport, before she left, she gave me a flash-drive. It contained a series of essays she wrote about women empowerment. She urged me to keep in touch and I still think about her, to this day,” recalled Kavita.
Kavita drove for six years before getting her new car – Suzuki Ertiga seven-seater multi-purpose vehicle. She says that she is able to contribute to her family expenses. But her relatives aren’t happy and they look down upon her in shame for her work. “My father got me this car. I have a huge loan to pay but I earn enough to help my family and pay off the loan as well,” she said.
While it is a known fact that Delhi isn’t too safe for women, Kavita agrees and says, “Safety is important. I don’t drive at night. I also feel scared when I have to go to Old Delhi or some other sensitive areas. The map also fails to work sometimes and then it’s difficult to hit the main road,” she shared.
From a taxi driver to a government job
In 2019, the Arvind Kejrival government made it possible for women to use public transportation for free. This also loosened the rules for female bus drivers. For instance, they lowered the minimum height requirement from 159 centimeters (5′ 2″) to 153 centimeters (5′). They also shortened the induction period to one month.
“I applied right away. With a good amount of driving experience, I easily passed the bus driver exam. I appeared for an interview. It went well and I received the letter of selection. It felt as wonderful as the moment I first got my driver’s license. I started my training to be a city bus driver for the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC). I became the only girl in my family to ever be selected for a government job. Once I complete training, I can start driving a bus on the road,” expressed Kavita adding that she has no intention of marrying or starting a family anytime soon. “Marriage can wait. My work as a professional driver in India challenges gender stereotypes,” said Kavita in conclusion.
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