Chaya Mohite slowly turns the accelerator as she carefully edges the salmon-colored rickshaw forward, one of Mumbai’s first female auto drivers to the utilization of a government scheme aimed at empowering women.
The 45-year-old was one of 19 women who soon started jobs ferrying passengers through the notoriously congested streets of the financial capital in their new three-wheelers.
“This job is much better than doing household work. I can make more money and it helps us secure our futures,” Ms. Mohite told AFP as she got in some last minute practice.
The mother of three has spent the past two months learning how to drive at a training center in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs and is thrilled with her new skills and financial prospects.
“I couldn’t even ride a bicycle but today I can drive an auto rickshaw. I’m independent and it makes me happy,” says Mohite, who hopes to earn 1,000 rupees a day.
She is benefitting from a scheme launched by the state government of Maharashtra that reserves five percent of rickshaw permits for women.
It announced the plan in early 2016, saying that 465 licenses would be made available for women in Mumbai and the neighboring district of Thane.
Unlike similar schemes in New Delhi and Ranchi, where some pink autos are driven by women for women as a safety initiative, the Maharashtra drivers take both male and female passengers.
‘Ready to drive anywhere’
Services started in Thane last year but Mohite and her new colleagues, who will sport white lab-coat-like uniforms, are the first to ply the streets of India’s most populated metropolis.
“I’ve taught them the A to Z of auto-rickshaw driving. They are now experts and have passed an official RTO (Regional Transport Office) test,” Sudhir Dhoipode, the women’s instructor, told AFP.
Mr. Dhoipode says he is presently teaching more than 40 women how to drive while around 500 others have expressed an interest in learning despite some community opposition in the conservative country.
“People mocked us for leaving our homes and choosing to drive rickshaws but we hope we can inspire other women to come forward and take advantage of this great initiative,” said driver Anita Kardak.