Among nearly 200 drivers protesting against Delhi government’s ban on cab services such as Uber, Ola and TaxiforSure on June 4 were two women who held hands as they stood among their male colleagues.
Caught in the differences between mobile app-based cab operators and the government, the single mothers said the ban has not only made them jobless but has discouraged many young women from entering the male-dominated world of taxi driving.
Shanno Begum, 38, who was among the first women in Delhi to start driving a taxi, supports two daughters and a son. Before she started working as a commercial driver, Shanno, who was widowed in 2005, worked as a patient carer, sold tea and vegetables. “Since I was not a well-educated woman, my options for work were limited. I could have worked as a cook or a maid. But when Azad Foundation started training women drivers, I enrolled. My husband was a driving trainer. But unfortunately I learnt to drive only after he passed away,” she said.
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Shanno said since she joined Uber two months back, her children have been much happier. “I can afford things that were out of reach earlier. My children can now attend English-speaking classes and get computer training as I am able to pay for these,” she said. Her expenses also include the EMI she pays for her Honda Amaze car.
“I drive the car during the day and my brother drives it all night. We now stand to lose Rs 5,000-7,000 per day,” she said.
The ban, she said, has forced her to keep her car parked. “Muslim women often get left out of the mainstream. Many young girls seek my advice and I always encourage them to become drivers. But I am myself without income now. Why would I advise others to go down this road now?” she said.
She said she especially regrets the threat to her job because, unlike many other fields where women face exploitation, cab drivers are treated at par with men from cab services like Uber and Ola.
Satyawati Kashyap, 43, has been a single parent for 21 years. Of these, she has spent seven years driving a taxi in Delhi. “I worked in every place I could. First in a shoe company, then as an assistant to a doctor and then I learnt how to drive. I was determined to give a good education to my children,” she said. She is associated with three banned cab-booking services — Uber, Ola and TaxiforSure. Kashyap lives in Palam with her daughter and son, both college students, and their Labrador named Jimmy.
“Women like me are bread-winners. Everyday that I don’t drive my taxi, I am set behind by about Rs 4,000, “ she said. “We are here for women’s safety. We too look after drunk passengers. At least thrice, I have picked up women who were completely sloshed and threw up in my car. After getting them home safe, we have to clean up after them. But we don’t stop doing our jobs, do we?” Kashyap said.
Uber officials said that more than 20 female drivers are attached to their cab service in Delhi. “Many women drive for more than one cab service. There are at least 50-60 of us in Delhi,” said Kashyap.
Twenty-nine-year-old Sujata Jena supports her two school-going boys and her sister-in-law by driving her Swift Dzire for three cab services. Before she learnt how to drive in 2006, she drove a battery-operated vehicle to ferry passengers within the domestic airport.
Jena, who hails from Kolkata, said she had to find a way of earning more after she and her husband separated.
“We are very careful when we drive and follow traffic rules. We do our best to get our passengers to their destination safely. Those who have committed a crime should be punished. Why should we be made to suffer?” Jena asked.
After rejected the applications of Uber, Ola and Taxifor Sure to ply in Delhi on account of them not submitting details of drivers and vehicles, the government says it will reconsider after they submit the required data. Transport Minister Gopal Rai has also told protesting drivers that the government was in their favour but it would not compromise on women’s safety.