Still, in many parts of our country, set gender roles disallow women to be raised as financially independent. Women only go out to work when it is absolutely necessary not because they have will. It is a norm and works even today in significant parts of the country. This is exactly the mindset 41-year-old Gulesh Chauhan had while growing up in a Rajput community in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Now, she is a pioneer Uber driver partner driving through the bylanes of the capital from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm every day for almost four years now.
Gulesh studied till ninth grade and was married off at 17, in Haryana. Her father died six months before her marriage so with four girls and a boy to raise, her mother found it best to get the girls married when a potential suitor came. On asking how she felt after getting married at such a young age, she told SheThePeople.TV, “I had no time to react neither did I understand anything. Although I do remember that I wanted to study further, but times were tough and so I had to be married off. Luckily my in-laws and my husband were nice people.”
She was content being a homemaker until one day when in 2003 her husband met with an accident and it became absolutely necessary for her to become financially independent. “For a few years, in the beginning, my mother helped me by taking care of me and my son. But my mother is also a cancer patient who worked as a nurse all through her life. She told me if I have to raise my son, then I will have to earn a living now. I had never even stepped out of the house, never travelled except to visit relatives and always lived in purdah. She asked me if I wanted to get married again, but I refused. I just wanted to raise my son well.”
“Then when it came to earning a livelihood, I started with doing a few odd jobs like cooking at people’s houses, selling vegetables, frying pakoras at a roadside stall, etc., but it wasn’t sustainable,” said Gulesh who also cooked at politician Amar Singh’s father’s house for a brief period.
Getting a driving Licence
Then around 2007, she found out that under a Delhi government scheme, DTC’s green and red buses were hiring female drivers. “It was also my husband’s desire that I learnt driving.” She felt motivated to join and started to learn driving from a relative’s son who had an Alto in those days. After learning, she approached the transport department, to register for a driving licence for heavy-duty vehicles. She was the first woman to do that and faced criticism and mockery from the licence makers. “When they found out that I needed a driving licence to drive heavy vehicles, they started making fun of me. They questioned my intent and embarrassed me in front of many others who were there but they couldn’t discourage me from applying for the licence and I finally got one made.”
However, Gulesh’s plan crashed when DTC buses were privatized and the govt. no longer ran that scheme. She then ran a small tiffin service as she prided in her cooking skills which went on for a few years. The finally-financially-independent Gulesh had an order of 50 tiffin boxes to be delivered every day and times were satisfactory, if not great, until she met with an accident in 2016.
This was the second major blow Gulesh experienced that left her bed-ridden for close to six months. With nowhere to go and no means to earn from as her business packed up during her recovery, Gulesh fell back to her first love—driving. After some time, she found out an opportunity again and met a man named Anil Kumar who was in search of female drivers. “While I didn’t know driving very well as I had not practised it much, he showed faith in me. When he told me that he wanted me to drive for him as a cab driver, I started crying. It had been long since somebody showed so much trust in me. He told me that it was fine if I caused any damage to the vehicle and that it was important to uplift me.”
Driving for Uber
“From there on started my journey as a cab driver for Uber, about two-three years ago, there were very few Uber cars on the road. It was Anil ji who helped me with all the documentation and even taught me how to use GPS and a smartphone. It was a bit difficult in the beginning, made a few mistakes too… par ab toh main keeda ban chuki hoon map ka… (Now I have become like an addict of the map),” recounted Gulesh.
On asking how her relatives and society reacted to her becoming a cab driver, she said, “It was really tough. People severed ties with me. They said many dirty things about me like now I will meet new men, I’ll drive men around in the city, etc. However, my mother stood by my side. She protected me from the mean things people were talking about me. It all lasted only for a bit though as I started getting media attention and they started hearing positive things about me.”
Gulesh’s driving journey, she says, has been extremely fulfilling barring a few hiccups. “One time, there was a man who cancelled his ride when he saw that I, a woman, was driving the car. Then there was that one man who showed apprehension in the beginning but took the ride begrudgingly. However, when I dropped him to his location, he apologized to me for his apprehension. Generally, I meet jovial and kind people. Women feel very happy travelling with me, I have felt. Most of my rides conclude with me making friends with women.”
“One time, there was a man who cancelled his ride when he saw that I, a woman, was driving the car. Then there was that one man who showed apprehension in the beginning but took the ride begrudgingly. However, when I dropped him to his location, he apologized to me for his apprehension.
While she drove Anil’s car initially, a good Samaritan named Ravinder Singh Yadav saw Gulesh’s story in the media and spoke to her. He suggested that she must buy a car so she can be her own boss and by the end of the day in 2017, he transferred close to three lakh rupees in her account. “I can never thank him enough. I haven’t even met him because I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay him. But I hope to invite him to my son’s wedding whenever that happens,” she said, adding that she bought her own car—a WagonR—with that money which she now drives.
With an income of Rs 2,000 per day, including CNG cost of Rs 600, she feels content with her financial position now. Gulesh is soon going to complete four years as a cab driver and in these last few years, she did not earn the appreciation because she is one of the few female cab drivers but also because she is damn good at her job. Even the cab-aggregating company, Uber has recognized her hard work several times during her tenure. She wants to continue being a cab driver all her life.
When asked what her future desire is, she left saying, “I want PM Narendra Modi to sit in my car once.”
Picture credit- Gulesh Chauhan