Jaipur is a beautiful regal city, and as I discovered, is it presents you with a safe environment as well. Which is a rarity in Delhi. So Jaipur felt surprisingly refreshing in that sense. Now why I praise Jaipur so much for safety is thanks to my good luck with a female-driven e-rick at the late hour of 10.30 in the night. Though I have been hearing for the past year about how start-ups are hiring women drivers in Delhi, I am yet to actually find one on my frequent visits to the city from Faridabad where I reside.
On my first visit to the pink city all alone for work, I had gone out for dinner to meet my cousins. After all the tummy-aching laughter, it was time for us to leave and quite honestly it was late given that most stores and restaurants in Jaipur shut shop early. As I stood searching through my Ola App, which by the way had decided to give me trouble just at that moment, in came a e-rickshaw. As I took a closer look, I realised it driven by a woman clad in a pink top and matching salwar. Pleasantly surprised at finding a woman auto driver, I thought there must be many like her in the city, otherwise how was it possible for me to find one.
As I got into the eco-friendly rickshaw, my curiosity took over the better of me and I just let the questions pour. On asking her if there were other women like her driving e-ricks in the city, she said there weren’t. 50 year old Raushni Sahoo is the only e-rick driver in the city. Originally from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, she moved to Jaipur about two decades back with her husband. Pestering her to tell me about her life, she initially was nervous and showed discomfort in doing so. But as we drove down the silent empty roads of Jaipur, she relaxed and opened up more about her life.
She revealed that she was now single and self-reliant. “I got divorced 15 years back and started living with my mother. In her later stages in life, paralysis struck her and she succumbed to the disease. I had a daughter from my marriage, who I raised myself without any monetary help from my husband. I married her off too but her husband and in-laws murdered her,” she said, teary-eyed. Raushini deeply regrets the fact that she was unable to send her son-in-law behind the bars.
I realised this woman is tough as nails, and once she opened up, she had no qualms in telling me about her life and the difficult circumstances she faced. “After my divorce, I started selling vegetables and went to far off places for trade, but since my mother got bed-ridden by paralysis, I had to quit that profession,” said Raushni. Her mother’s medical prescriptions, bills and other expenses pushed her to the brink and she was forced to find a better way to earn money, which is when she thought of investing in an e-rickshaw. “It has been two years that I have been driving it and it feels absolutely great. I don’t care what others say as I don’t talk to anyone unnecessarily and keep to myself,” she stated matter-of-factly, as she stepped on the accelerator.
“When I wanted to learn how to drive this, I asked a man to teach me. I told him I would pay him half the money he earns on a daily basis for two days to tell me the basics. Initially he agreed, but later got nervous. He was scared seeing a strong woman asking him to teach her something that is considered a vehicle solely for men ,” added Raushni. “I later learned it myself, by watching other people drive and then slowly driving it myself. Now I take about 50 passengers every day. It is sufficient for me since I live alone.”
“It has been two years that I have been driving it and it feels absolutely great.”
Raushni is not only content with the money she gets, she is also very liberal in her thoughts. Talking about women’s issues was the best part of my conversation with her. About the CM of Rajasthan, Vasundhra Raje, she expressed her views freely, “I don’t know why people call her a loose character woman just because she deals with men. I feel that being at a position where she is, she is bound to have to talk to men and deal with them on a regular basis.” It was a refreshing point of view, showing her open-mindedness.
As our ride was coming to an end, I congratulated Raushni for the tremendous courage she showed in the tough conditions of her life and fought back. The unexpected praise made her emotional. I hugged her and promised to meet her again on my next trip to the pink city.