Over the last few years, the number of female cab drivers has been steadily rising in the country. While the concept was largely unheard of in Uttarakhand, an initiative by Shruti Kaushik has been a game changer for the region. The 28-year-old has started SheCab, introducing female cab drivers in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. Saheli Trust, an NGO Shruti started in 2013 for women’s empowerment, operates SheCab. While SheCab started trials in April this year, it recently acquired licence to run a permanent fleet.
Shruti, an electrical engineer, left her job in Pune to start the Saheli Trust. SheThePeople.TV got talking with Shruti about SheCab and the motivation behind the initiative. We also had a brief chat with SheCab’s three star drivers about their experience of driving and learning along the way.
The formation – By Women, For Women
The idea behind SheCab was mainly to serve the purpose of employment for women. “With SheCab, our aim was to create more employment opportunities for these women. This career is path-breaking in the region when it comes to women. However, it is important and interesting on so many levels as well. Another reason is to provide a more safer option of travel for women in and around the city,” Shruti says.
“There comes a point in every woman’s life when she has to tell herself that she is worthy of so much. With SheCab, we’re trying to help women realise that.”
Shruti’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2013 when she moved back to Dehradun to contribute towards the society. She has always had a deep urge to help women and do everything in her power to empower them. Thus, she formed the Saheli Trust. The Trust works with women in remote areas, educates and trains them free of cost in accessing various activities and career options.
Starting an initiative like SheCab, one sure has its share of challenges. Talking about the difficulties that came in the way, Shruti says that the most grave challenge was to convince these women to consider driving as a career option. “The general notion about driving, as career option, is that this is something only men are capable of doing. So getting women, in these regions, to believe that it’s normal for women to drive a car and take it up professionally is a tall task,” she adds.
Shruti’s journey of coming to terms with working in remote areas saw many challenges with respect to the mindset that prevails there. “Even today, girls in remote areas are married off as soon as they hit puberty. These girls don’t have the basic right to exercise their choice of taking up a career. We’ve had difficulties in not only looking for potential drivers, but also breaking this norm of child marriages by engaging girls in various activities and certification courses as well,” she explains.
It wasn’t easy for the team to get full-time female drivers. The process of hiring these drivers and getting them on-board has been a challenging one. “We visited homes and identified women who could take up the task. After convincing them, we started off with their two-and-a-half month training schedule, trial driving lessons, certifications and tests. We’ve given them smart phones and have taught them navigation as well. This makes it easier for functioning,” she shares.
The Trust, at present, is carrying out surveys and researchers to identify more women who are willing to earn a living as professional drivers. “The security of lone women passengers is also why we were so adamant in starting this service. We also want to cater to foreign women travellers and tourists,” she adds.
She Cab currently has three women drivers and two cabs. It is a service accessible for women and children. These taxis ply to locations in Dehradun, Mussoorie, Rishikesh and Haridwar. More women are expected to join the fleet in the coming days.
General reaction and response
People across the region have welcomed SheCab. “The response has been good so far. People have been approaching us for bookings and therefore, we’re able to tap the market as well,” Shruti says. When asked if there has been a negative reaction, she explains that everywhere, there are always some people, who cannot see women progress. “I believe, we must continue fighting. People will speak whether you do well or not. I try to ignore the negativity and the bickering and move on,” she shares.
“Social constraints for women are everywhere. We have to work regardless.”
When asked about social constraints in Dehradun, Shruti says that this is something that prevails across the country. She believes women have been subjected to stereotypes since ages and bringing about a change will take time. “While we are moving forward progressively, there are many areas where women are tied down by these social constraints, however baseless they may be. We need to change his phenomena together and work towards acceptance and of more women progressing and taking charge of their own lives,” she reflects.
We spoke with the three drivers and asked them about their experience. Ajrun Nisha‘s motive in working as a driver was to gain financial independence. “I have always dreamt about earning on my own living on my own terms. With SheCab, I’ve found a new ray of hope in life and a new path. My main aim was to stand on my own feet and that’s happened,” she says.
Talking about her roller coaster experience, Mamta tells us that she hails from a place where people could not even digest the idea of women driving, leave alone taking it up as a profession. “I wanted to do something for my family. I came across Saheli Trust and, with the SheCab initiative, I learnt driving. Now, alongside driving professionally, I also engage in teaching other women the same,” she reveals.
Madhu Bala tells us that she has had some really good experiences while driving around town as young girls have been appreciative of the SheCab idea and her skills. “Young girls often say such encouraging things that I feel proud of my profession. I feel happy that I am able to drive around and contribute to women’s safety measures as well,” she says.
“It’s time to come out and break the stereotype, and women taking charge by doing this themselves is the best way change can happen.”
Shruti’s idea of equality focuses strongly on women breaking free of norms and demanding their equal rights. She says it’s never too late to realise this and backing each other can help a great deal. “Women are breaking stereotypes. Now everyone must come to terms with this fact,” she concludes.
At a time when women are coming forward to demand and exercise their rights, the SheCab initiative is not only carving a path for women in the region, but also defining newer and fairer rules of acceptance and identity. It is with the vision and effort of the entire team that the cab service, which was running on trial, is now a full-time service, offering employment and rides by women to women. More power to Shruti, her team and the noble causes they’re fighting for.
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