The brave female cabbies of New Delhi

Written by on January 21, 2013 in Cars and Chicks, Perspectives, Trends - 28 Comments

New Delhi CabbyIn many parts of the world, driving like a girl takes guts. Women are discouraged and even forbidden from driving by philistine laws and codes. Not surprisingly, it’s harsh to be a woman in such societies – let alone think about getting around on your own.

And yet, there’s some good news, a twinkle of hope from New Delhi, India. If you’re a woman looking to improve your prospects by learning to drive, you’re in luck. Sakha Consulting has a special car service to provide safe transportation for women, by women.

This is the same New Delhi where just before New Year’s, a female medical student was gang-raped and later died. It’s a society notorious for its callous treatment of women.

So having women on the road at the wheel of a car, whether a cab or a private car, is an unexpected but sane strategy. These lady drivers have chutzpah – not only do they have to cope with the stifling congestion on the mean streets, they also  have to deal with the threat of road violence from male cabbies, who have been openly hostile to their female competitors.

The whole notion was the brainchild of Azad Foundation, an NGO that works with disadvantaged women. Normally, these women’s career prospects were limited to factories or working as domestic servants. They’re from the slums, from the area’s poorest families. To work as a cab drivers, they start by becoming versed in  driving skills over an eight to ten-month course. Then, to prepare these fearless females for physical confrontations, they’re taught self-defence by the women’s wing of the local police department. And, probably for the first time in their lives, they get up close and familiar with their legal rights as women.

Meena Vadera of the Azad Foundation, wanted to empower women and make the roads safer for them. She found that the women changed significantly during their training. “You can see it in their body language, in their speech, in the way they negotiate. It is a small step into a very different world. Learning to drive is like learning to swim; once you are over the early fear, it makes you feel powerful.”

New Delhi traffic

Sakha, an offshoot of the Azad Foundation, has a fleet of about 50 women chauffeurs, and 10 women working as cabbies. Cabs must be booked four hours in advance, and some drivers understandably prefer not to drive at night. But with more Indian women travelling alone, working late hours and socializing in the evening with friends, the market is there. And it makes sense in a city infamous for its record of rape, that if you’re a woman, riding a cab with a woman driver is a lot safer than driving with a male. In fact, men are not allowed in Sakha cabs unless a woman passenger is present.

Cab fleetFemale cabbies are also earning a decent wage, starting at about $110 monthly, and can earn over $200 per month. That’s almost twice as much as they would have earned in textile mills or other jobs. Many of them have had to overcome dissent against their taking up their profession not only by society at large, but from their own families. Traditional gender roles have a stranglehold in India, but these women drivers are bravely striking out and finding it’s worth the struggle.

Meena Vadera sums it up by saying, “Our mandate is to work with underprivileged women to help them make the transition from ‘I cannot’ to ‘I can.’”






28 Comments on "The brave female cabbies of New Delhi"

  1. Jon Jefferson January 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm · Reply

    $200 a month is crazy. We tend to forget how much we have in the US. To think that 200 isn’t even enough to cover our grocery bill on a monthly basis.

    It is good to see measures are being made to make life at least a little bit safer for the women of India. Of course, change will always come with opposition.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 22, 2013 at 1:48 am · Reply

      We take so much for granted! In other parts of the world, people get by with far less. Their expectations are different but that’s changing as the world gets smaller. Women realize there are other options for them, and although it’s not an easy path, they’re fighting for their rights. You’re right – even good change meets with great opposition. But with hope and help, they will prevail!

  2. Grace January 21, 2013 at 7:13 pm · Reply

    What a great post. The things we don’t think about and take for granted in this country! I wish this company and the women cab drivers the very best.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 22, 2013 at 1:51 am · Reply

      Thank you, Grace! We don’t think twice about hopping in the car and meeting a male friend for a coffee, do we? Yet in some parts of the world, this would be scandalous. It takes courage to break down barriers that have been there for thousands of years. These women have it in spades.

  3. Kelly Wade January 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm · Reply

    Wow, its awesome to see middle Eastern countries making leaps and bounds when it comes to women’s rights. I have a friend who lives on an American base in Saudi Arabia and she would always talk about how women would have to use drivers (if they could afford them) to get anywhere they needed to go. This is a huge step for equality of women over there, although I can understand how many of them would be weary and even afraid of getting on the road with mostly male drivers.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 22, 2013 at 1:54 am · Reply

      We hear so much about the oppression of women in many corners of the world and not enough about what’s being done to help them! I’ll bet there are similar initiatives elsewhere that will slowly bring about change in these countries. These women, and the people who are helping them, are so inspiring!

  4. Susan Cooper January 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm · Reply

    It is awe inspiring that the Middle East is begining to empower their female society. I imagine there is still a long way to go. This article goes to show how much we take for granted in our country. 🙂

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 22, 2013 at 1:58 am · Reply

      For sure – while these courageous women are leading the charge to make change, it will take time and perseverance. They are dealing with archaic traditions that have been in place for thousands of years, and will yield slowly. We are so lucky to live where we do, aren’t we?!

  5. Jeri January 22, 2013 at 3:33 am · Reply

    What an empowering post to read as my final one of the day! It’s also the type of story I like to tuck away for a possible story idea some rainy day 😉

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Jeri! It gives any woman a boost to hear that there are positive steps being taken to help women in places like New Delhi, where the news is usually not as uplifting.

  6. Susan Oakes January 22, 2013 at 4:11 am · Reply

    What a great idea as I know in my country women are wary of getting into some cabs late at night. It is also great these women are taking initiative for themselves and other women.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm · Reply

      Although I don’t take cabs very often, there is definitely a difference when a woman is at the wheel – whether it’s a cab, a bus or a streetcar. You can’t help but admire these women in New Delhi for their everyday heroism.

  7. Doreen Pendgracs January 22, 2013 at 4:20 am · Reply

    Very interesting post, Krystyna.

    I’d never thought about it before, but I don’t think I’ve EVER ridden in a cab with a woman driver!

    How lovely it would be to be in a car with a woman driver. No uncomfortable moments.

    It’s nice to see this initiative happening in India. Hopefully, it will spread to other parts of the world.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Doreen! My (rare) experiences in cabs have almost always been with male drivers. I do recall being in a cab with a female driver on one of my jaunts to the U.S., and there was a greater feeling of trust – especially since I didn’t know exactly where I was going. We women have to stick together!

  8. Doreen Pendgracs January 22, 2013 at 4:22 am · Reply

    By the way, you might like to check if there is a glitch in your captcha feature. It asked me 3 Q’s which I know I answered correctly and it wouldn’t post my comment. So I copied my post and refreshed the site and pasted it and it worked.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm · Reply

      Thanks for the heads-up, Doreen. I updated a couple of plug-ins, although the captcha wasn’t due for an update. Then I checked from a few different browsers and it seems to be working okay. Sorry for the inconvenience and I’m glad you persevered : ))

  9. Madge January 23, 2013 at 2:33 am · Reply

    Wow, what an interesting post. To think of it I always feel creepy in a cab and I never see women cabbies. I think I would feel far less creepy with a woman driver. lol

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm · Reply

      Women cabbies are far and few between. Are you old enough to remember that 70’s show “Taxi”, about a bunch of cab drivers in New York? There was one woman cabbie, but there were hardly any plotlines about what is was like to be a woman cabbie – and in New York!

  10. Dan Meyers January 23, 2013 at 2:53 am · Reply

    This is an awesome post and very relevant for us right now as we’ll be heading to New Delhi in a couple of months. There’s definitely a long way for their society to progress and small steps like this will surely make a huge difference.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Dan! I hope you have a great time in New Delhi and now you know to look for cabs being driven by women. I think there is a a lot of change happening in places like New Delhi, which inevitably causes a backlash. I have confidence that they will adapt!

  11. Sherryl Perry January 23, 2013 at 5:47 am · Reply

    This is a wonderful story of courage Krystyna. It’s inspiring to read about these brave women. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Krystyna Lagowski January 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm · Reply

      That’s so nice to hear from you, Sherryl! I like to share good news, especially about issues and places where you don’t hear enough good news. These women have chutzpah in spades, and they’re inspiring me too.

  12. Valerie Remy-Milora February 1, 2013 at 2:41 am · Reply

    What a beautiful and inspiring story! I am so encouraged to read this. I cringe every time I hear how women are treated in India. I’ve never been but I feel there is so much beauty in that country and women that I have met there have such beautiful spirits! It never ceases to amaze me that they can be so joyful when life has treated them so harshly! It’s a testament of their strength and inner beauty! I applaud Meena Vadera and the Azad Foundation for empowering women in such a way!

    • Krystyna Lagowski February 4, 2013 at 11:48 pm · Reply

      Valerie, it’s true we hear so much bad news about women in India. And I agree that they are resilient, from which we can take inspiration and strength ourselves. India’s culture has existed for thousands of years and many facets of it promote love and peace. Perhaps these women have found their power from this aspect of their culture.

  13. Laura Sherman February 5, 2013 at 1:06 am · Reply

    Wow, I never knew there was so much danger for women in cabs. Although it is better in the US, I wonder now if it is safe. Thank you for the educational article. And thank you for highlighting these brave women!

    • Krystyna Lagowski February 12, 2013 at 11:38 pm · Reply

      You’re welcome! In North America, we are probably safer than in other parts of the world, but it still gives one pause for thought. These gutsy women in India are an inspiration!

  14. Sophie Naz July 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm · Reply

    An important scheme. I’m originally from Pakistan which isn’t too far off and the government there have a law (at least in the areas I would live) that if women want to use the public transport they never have to sit next to a man unless he’s a family member they know and are comfortable with. ‘cos men be creepy there.

    Sadly until the creeps grow up and earn their roles this kind of segregation remains of the highest importance. Segregation is a really importance aspect of life where I’m from, usually for safety but sometimes that can turn into exclusion for women too.

    • Krystyna Lagowski July 17, 2013 at 1:42 am · Reply

      That’s insane. What women have to deal with in some parts of the world is shocking and sad. Robbing women of their mobility also effectively curtails their freedom. We are lucky to live where we do.

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