Jaswinder Kaur, in her early 30s, had never known how to ride even a bicycle, let alone a vehicle of any kind. But she has become one of the first women e-rickshaw drivers in Punjab. Now she drives an 8-seater e-rickshaw with confidence. Jaswinder is a mother of two children and both she and her husband suffer from a disability in their legs. She has passed the Class 10th exam but was unemployed. She chose to earn a living by plying an e-rickshaw because this way she could start earning without making any initial investment.
“I don’t feel bad when anyone looks at me. Rather it makes me happy that I am doing something a little different from the rest,” she said when asked how she felt entering a male-dominated field. Jaswinder said, thanks to more women taking up driving e-rickshaws, people will soon get used to women drivers.
She is correct in saying that she is not alone. Rekha Rani, a widow having three kids, too is learning to ferry passengers in her auto. After the death of her husband in a road accident in 2016, Rekha took up tailoring to take care of her family. But the earnings were barely enough to provide two square meals. “When I saw an advertisement in a paper about women e-rickshaw driver, I applied because I have no money to start any of my work and here the government was to provide e-rickshaws,” said Rekha.
Like Jaswinder and Rekha, 40 other differently-abled women, aged between 20 to 50 have become e-rickshaw drivers in Hoshiarpur district, which is the first district of Punjab that has launched a women e-rickshaw driver project.
The project is the brainchild of the Punjab Industry Minister, Sunder Sham Arora, who is based out of Hoshiarpur, and the district administration.
Livelihood and empowerment
Most of the women chosen by the Punjab government to receive training for driving the e-rickshaws come from economically-weaker sections of the society. Further, almost all of them find it difficult to earn money because of some physical disability. By training these women, the government hopes to provide them not just with a means of livelihood but also a sense of empowerment.
Women are plying these autos in Roshan Ground and around by carrying the passengers during their 10 days training programme, which is being provided by the district administration. All the women were selected through the interview recently. Arora handed over a cheque of Rs 51 lakh to the district administration recently — this money, in turn, was the contribution of businesses. Already 42 e-rickshaws have been purchased by the administration costing around Rs 1 lakh each, and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has waived off the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on these e-rickshaws, according to Arora.
In the first phase, autos were provided to 42 women after a selection process led by Isha Kalia, the former Deputy Commissioner of Hoshiarpur who has been recently transferred. Kalia said that the chosen women will ply on several routes in the city after they have completed their training.
But, what is the reason behind this project? Arora replied, “I wanted to empower womenfolk in every field and thought about this unique project which is quite easy to handle and it can earn a fair amount (of money) to provide a good life to the families of these poor women”.
“For safety and security, all the women’s e-rickshaws would be equipped with GPS-enabled systems, and their location can be monitored any time from the control room. Also, these e-rickshaws will be run within the city area,” said Arora. He added that all women have also been given mobile phones so that they can connect with each other and with the administration easily. He said that another phase of it would also be launched soon.
Kalia said that this project will make women more confident and they will become an inspiration for the many unemployed men and women. She said that these are eco-friendly battery-operated rickshaws and two battery charging stations are also being set up in the city.
Shelly, a divorcee and educated up to primary level, another woman E-rickshaw driver, said that after the death of her father she has had to take care of her mother, sister and her 10-year old physically-challenged son.
“This is the best job for me because the e-rickshaw is very easy to drive,” she said.
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