I travelled in a “Ladies Only” taxi for the first time this week. The 26 km commute from the airport was one of discovery–that many women work outside their homes in this megapolis at great personal cost.
I was walking to the taxi stand when a girl in her mid-20s, in trousers and sharp pin-striped shirt, approached me asking if I needed a cab. She was from “XYZ” car company that ran a fleet taxi service for women with women drivers. She told me she drove a Mahindra Logan and for my destination she would charge by the km and give a receipt. I decided to try it and hopped in. Alas, we barely went 20m when the car stopped. And then came the first discovery: some men will not lose any opportunity to pull down a woman they see in a job that has traditionally been their preserve.
A bunch of Cool Cab drivers sidled up to the car – one started mocking the driver “J” for the crappy car she drove, another patronisingly asked her if she knew what to do, a third asked her if she knew how to switch between CNG & petrol . While she opened up the bonnet, a few more mean comments came by. She sat back in car, called a colleague to take her fare ( i.e., me) and then called her company to report the problem.
While I waited in her car for the next cab to come, I asked her what she would do. She said she would move the car to the side and go home. The company would send a towing van when they could arrange for it. I worried for her safety even in the supposedly secure premises of India’s busiest airport.
“M” came by a few minutes later. She expertly transferred my bags into her Hyundai Accent and we drove off. On discovering I spoke the local language, M spent the next 26 kilometres telling me her life story. Having lost her mum to cancer 2 years earlier, M gave up on a college degree. Her older sister had just gotten married, her 2 younger siblings were under 10 and she had finished class 12. Her painter dad needed another income to pay off medical loans and get the household running. M’s neighbour was a lady-cabbie and she decided to give it a go. She got through her driving test and training and got a job as one of the 25 or so lady cabbies of the city. The system worked like this: every fortnight she paid the cab company 9000 rupees; the rest of her earnings, less the cost of fuel, was her income (around10-15000 Rs. p.m) . She said she preferred doing at least 1 airport trip a day and then came my second discovery: M did not use a public toilet anywhere in the city other than the airport. Said she “held” herself because the public toilets were dirty or wet or simply unusable. If she was lucky, she got a chance to use a facility at a fare’s office building.
This reminded me of Sujata Anandan’s article. When the physiological needs of a woman member of Maharashtra State’s Cabinet is not factored in by colleagues, the needs of women taxi drivers come low in the pecking order of responsibilities of governments and municipalities towards its citizens.
Makes me wonder:
- What is the role of regulatory bodies when it comes to behaviour of its members?
It’s bad enough a lady cabbie is ribbed in broad daylight with a passenger sitting in her vehicle, what happens if some of those men are drunken louts, at night? The Taximen’s Union is not the most liked group of people in the city; this experience confirmed that many of its members have one hell of a mean streak. They rage against change in a way that is hurtful beyond belief and the Union has no interest in enforcing some basic human values in them. In few cities will less civilised people be in charge of passenger transport. How can we claim our place at the high table of world powers if we cannot ensure some order among our taximen? I hope some good Samaritans would have helped J push her car aside at the airport that day because not one of those Cool Cab drivers showed any inclination to help.
- Just how high are the cards stacked against women? We talk of reservations to acquire political power but what about creating an environment where they can work without facing hostility?
- And finally: just what is it about us and poor sanitation? Why can’t we build more toilets and having built them why can’t we keep them clean ? Incidentally, you know when you are going past the men’s loo at the airport arrival lounge–the stink is in the air. Tells me whoever designed the ventilation system didnt do a good job . Of course, it would help if the airport authorities invested in some air fresheners too.
Or maybe we must have self cleaning loos everywhere and pray to Swachcha Narayani instead.