From vulnerability to empowerment... this has been the journey of 40-year-old auto rickshaw driver Reshma Dalvi. A year after her husband’s death in 2016, Dalvi took to auto rickshaw driving to raise her son and run her household. She is thankful that her husband taught her to drive and also encouraged her to get a three wheeler license. In conversation with Free Press Journal, one of Mumbai’s women auto rickshaw drivers, Dalvi narrates her journey from a simple homemaker to taking the driver’s seat, and the challenges life throws at her.
Q. Why and how did you take up auto rickshaw driving as a profession?
My husband left behind an old auto rickshaw and a huge responsibility for me – our family. First, I started operating a Poli Bhaji Kendra (home-cooked food centre) which did not earn me much profit. It became difficult for me to afford to pay my son’s school fees. For the first few months, I rented out our auto; however, that wasn’t profitable either. On my insistence, my husband had taught me how to drive the rickshaw, so I decided to put that training to use.
Q. How was it the first time when you set out as a woman auto rickshaw driver?
It wasn’t tough, and I wasn’t nervous either. It is a strenuous job, though. There were several problems, especially in the initial stages. Male auto rickshaw drivers mocked me at times. At times, seeing me (a woman) in the driver’s seat, curious passengers asked several questions. Later, they all started getting used to seeing me or other women drivers. I was judged by many for my decision, but I have come this far not only to manage my home but also to support my son’s education. The best part about being an auto driver is flexibility in terms of time, and being your own boss. I don’t drive late in the evening and no one dictates terms.
Q. Was it too much of a struggle initially?
There were problems as the vehicle was old. One day, I got a chance to meet Amruta Fadnavis madam when she visited our locality in Borivali. I managed to get financial support and bought a new auto rickshaw with the help of her NGO Divyaj Foundation. This initiative helped ensure that my rickshaw is loan free, which took a huge burden off me.
Q. How did you survive the lockdown?
Lockdown marked a tough phase for all auto drivers. I suffered, too, but not much. I know many who had loans to pay and had no other way of earning. Now that everything has opened up, I, too, am back.
Q. What do you have to say about other women in this profession?
Many of us took to this profession driven by financial needs. However, nowadays, I see many women, some with better educational qualifications, getting into this field. My goal is to never be vulnerable and helpless. I hope other women auto rickshaw drivers follow this mantra, too, and not get discouraged by criticism. Women are capable of anything; they don’t have to live by other people’s rules.
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