Pune based Shila Dawre, the country’s first woman auto-rickshaw driver, wants to break more glass ceilings by starting an academy for women interested in becoming trained auto-rickshaw drivers, which if given permission, will be a first-of-its-kind in the state.
After stepping into the ‘male-dominated’ zone in 1988— with majority auto-rickshaw drivers being men— she believes that it is high time that women took on the wheels of this form of public transport. Carrying the tag of being the first woman auto-rickshaw driver on the Limca Book of World Records, she is now knocking the doors of the Transport Ministry to facilitate her dream endeavour—an academy exclusively meant to train women as auto-rickshaw drivers.
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“It’s not easy to get permits and women auto drivers have to really struggle. I had to go through a lot so I am happy that the government has finally given us some status by issuing permits to women auto drivers. However, I feel that an academy by a woman for women will instill more courage and faith among women drivers,’’ says 45-year-old Dawre. While she is well aware of the challenges in getting clearances, she says that tough times have always made her a stronger individual. Recalling her journey, she says, having left her Parbhani home at the age of 18 and deciding to ride an auto rickshaw in Pune faced enough resistance from her family too. Not bowing down to pressure, Dawre, who has studied up to Std XII, then entered the male-dominated profession and decided to pursue her dreams and achieve the feat of becoming the first woman auto driver in the country. “My parents opposed me completely, but today, they are proud of me,’’says Dawre. Her stay in Pune has had its share of hurdles as people were unwilling to rent out their auto-rickshaws to her, doubting her driving capabilities. However, Dawre did find good samaritans who helped her in the journey. She saved on money and bought an auto rickshaw, with the support of the Union and Janwadi Sanghtana. She met her husband, Shirish Kamble, an auto driver and they got married and have two daughters. With her husband’s support, they run a travel company now.
Asked if she ever feared driving passengers being a woman driver, Dawre says women are strong and open to raising their voice against any kind of violence now. ‘If women are driving women passengers as is done for taxis, they feel a lot safer,’’ says Dawre.