• Meet Ranchi’s Pink Auto Driver Biresh Devi

    “I am married for several years, I have four children, yet even today I don’t know what a husband’s love is,” Biresh Devi tells SheThePeople.TV, with a lump in her throat. Hailing from Jharkhand, Biresh was forcefully married off at the age of 12. In a free-wheeling conversation, the woman — who seems to be in her 30s — recollects how her husband came to her house and threatened to violate her if she did not marry him. Her parents had to succumb to his threats and went ahead to marry off Biresh.

    This is quite a common practice among tribal and financially lower class communities in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Forced marriage wasn’t the only crime being attempted here, but also marriage of a minor. However, it is highly unlikely for people to reach out to the cops.

    “My mother-in-law used to say what do you need to go back home for? We have brought you here to do domestic work and now you only belong to this house.”

    Biresh, who never did household chores at her maternal home, said that after marriage, she was tortured and forced to do all household chores, including making food for the whole family, cleaning, washing etc. And even her husband was not with her in the initial days of their union. “And when he returned, his parents told him that I had not been doing the chores properly and that I have been crying for days. He got up and started beating me up.”

    The young girl then wondered that if she is being treated with such disrespect at the start of her marriage, will things ever change? “Maine apne pati ke bina rehne ka poora mann bana liya tha. Maine socha jab abhi ye mere saath aesa vyavhaar karte hain toh aage kya hoga? (I decided to leave husband. I thought if they are beating me up today when it has only been, what will happen in future?”

    The only thing Biresh wanted was to go back to where she came from, her parents’ house. But her husband’s family wouldn’t allow her to even visit her parents in fear that she would never return.

    “My mother-in-law used to say what do you need to go back home for? We have brought you here to do domestic work and now you only belong to this house.”

    Tribal Women Pathbreakers copy

    One day, Biresh got really sick and then her husband had to take her to her parents. Once there, she told her mother that she does not want to go back to her husband’s house again. Biresh’s family supported her in her decision and she stayed back. “I said I will kill myself, rather than go back to that house again.”

    Some time passed and Biresh went to visit her relatives and her husband got to know about this. He came to Patna where Biresh was and started torturing her again to go back with him. “My relatives also left me on my own saying, ‘ye tumhare aapas ka maamla hai’ (this is your personal matter)”. And Biresh had to go back to her husband’s house once again.

    ALSO READ: Inspiring: These tribal girls are the change agents for gender equality in Odisha

    Biresh says that apart from doing household chores at her matrimonial house, in 2013, she also started working as a daily wage labourer. And one day while she was at work, a man approached them and asked her if she would drive an auto.

    “He is the founder of Pink Auto Mahila Service in Ranchi. Sanjay bhaiyya asked if we would like to drive an auto as an exclusive auto service is going to be launched in Ranchi, driven specifically by women. Initially, we laughed a lot at the thought of a woman driving an auto, which has been a man’s job.”

    Biresh Devi

    Biresh Devi

    “But bhaiya persisted and requested many times to give it a try and we agreed — me and five other women. At that time, I was also thinking that my husband is jobless and if I could drive a vehicle, I would put in a lot of hard work to get my children admitted in a good school.”

    “I kept failing for 10 days in a row and one day I decided if I am not able to do it today, I will quit this. I started the auto and took three rounds in an open ground all by myself. That day I realized that I could do it”

    Biresh was given the necessary training and after three months, she started running the auto on roads — giving tough competition to men. But it was far from an easy path. Since the idea of a woman driving an auto was so novel in Ranchi, her male counterparts mocked her and passed discouraging comments.

    “Even my husband made fun of me and said that I would not be able to do it. I fought with him and started to drive the auto.”

    She added, “Since it was such a new experience, I took my time to learn how to drive. I kept failing for 10 days in a row and one day I decided, if I am not able to do it today, I will quit this. I started the auto and took three rounds in an open ground all by myself. That day I realized that I could do it.”

    However, Biresh had understood by now that if she had to work every day, she would have to make herself stronger and cut through the negativity around her.

    Today, there are 40 women working as Pink auto drivers. And it was Biresh’s struggle that inspired many others to join her as auto drivers. Now, the aim is to get 200 women to work as auto drivers to cover the entire city of Ranchi.

    Biresh has also joined an NGO, thus finding a mission in her life. After a few counselling sessions, working with the NGO and visiting other cities, she is now helping other tribal girls by creating awareness about child marriage. She does it by assisting them in setting up their own business.

    Biresh’s story proves that where there is a will, there is a way.

    More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

     

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