Pink became the colour of safety for women on the streets of Bongaigaon, one of the biggest commercial and industrial hubs of Assam and also of North-East India, with the launch of ‘Pink Auto’ on Wednesday. About thirteen pink coloured auto-rickshaws, driven by women and catering to female passengers, will ply on the streets to provide a source of livelihood and to cater to women’s safety.
The project, under the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM), was launched by a local MLA, deputy commissioner Bongaigaon and officials of Bongaigaon Refinery and State Bank of India – the sponsors of the autos. Tha auto-rickshaws will ply from 6 am to 6 pm and gradually the timing would be extended.
‘Pink Auto’ is the brainchild of social worker Kusumbar Choudhury, who is also the Bongaigaon city project manager of the NULM. Speaking to Indian Express, Choudhury said he came up with the concept after a member of one of the self-help groups under NULM escaped abduction by an auto driver and his accomplice. “Initially I came up with the concept but I will give credit to the women (members of SHGs) who actually nurtured it,” he stated.
Altogether, there are 148 SHGs under NULM Bongaigaon and Choudhury mobilised their members to reach out to women from “poorest of the poor” families and motivate those willing to take up driving auto-rickshaws commercially. It was a long process of reaching out, motivating and getting consent of the women and their families. “Initially, 20 women volunteered for the training and the job but seven dropped out due to societal and peer pressure. Thirteen of them stood strong refusing to yield to pressure,” he said. Choudhury said 70 per cent of the drivers were domestic helps and from very poor families.
“I actually expected far less, but I thank my team for not giving up,” the project manager stated. The public response to the launch of the Pink Auto has also been unexpectedly overwhelming, he claimed. Asked about the safety of women drivers themselves, Choudhury said that they would be given training in self defence soon. Moreover, the NULM in-house team is also working to install GPS trackers in the autos and mobile phones of the drivers, which will be monitored from the office.
Of the 13 auto-rickshaws, 10 have been sponsored by the Bongaigaon Refinery, and three by the State Bank of India.