20 March, 2017

Steering right with the wheels

The Stree Shakti Kendra, Priyadarshini Taxi Service and Tata Trusts are providing economically backward women new avenues of livelihood with driving training and support to buy cars of their own

“My community still says it is a male’s profession and I must do something else like becoming a house maid, patient care helper or such,” says Shahin Shakeel Khan, who is a chauffeur with Priyadarshini Taxi Service in Mumbai. Her orthodox community is not happy that she has ventured into a male-dominated domain.

However, Shahin had no choice but to do so. Her husband took seriously ill, leaving her to fend for the family. She had to step out of her conservative family and community to earn a living. With only an eight standard level of education, things looked difficult. Then, life took a turn for the better. A close relative got her in touch with Stree Shakti Kendra. She had a seen a poster about driving training imparted by Stree Shakti Kendra. Shahin had a car at home, which her husband used to drive. She successfully completed her 90-day training to graduate as a taxi driver, and was absorbed into Priyadarshini Taxi Services’ team as a driver.

Stree Shakti Kendra is a charitable organisation focused on the welfare and empowerment of women, children and economically backward classes. The driver training provided to women belonging to economically weaker sections is but one of its many initiatives. The women drivers are absorbed as drivers in Priyadarshini Taxi Service. Tata Trusts supports the women taxi drivers through loans to buy their own car, from the State Bank of Travancore, under the Government of India’s Mudra Scheme. Priyadarshini Taxis applies for car loans in the name of the woman drivers as a co-applicant. The corollary to the above arrangement is that a minimum of 25% of the cost of the vehicle, as the down payment, has to be paid by the woman who is the applicant. The bank provides the vehicle loan at an interest rate of 9.75% per annum for 5-7 years.

“I have got a new self-confidence today to independently and confidently live in Mumbai and also take care of not only my father and in-laws, but also to support my husband in running our household,” says Sudha Amod Tirwadkar. She has paid off her gold loan and is now saving money to buy her own house. She completed the 90-day training in 75 days and drives for 10 hours a day, except Sundays. 

Susieben Shah, President of Stree Shakti Kendra, set up Priyadarshini Taxi Service to train women who earn an income of less than Rs.10,000 as drivers. “I came across many young women, who had a twinkle in their eyes and a hunger to reach out and succeed. What they lacked was the opportunity and path to realise their dreams. We took on this mantle and enrolled women who wanted to enter the male-dominated profession of driving taxis in Mumbai," says Ms Shah.

The 90-day programme includes training in specific need-assessment-based efficient driving, soft skills, self-defense techniques, financial management, legal awareness, grooming, spoken English and stress-free living. The trainees are provided travelling expenses, food, tea and refreshments. Safety of the lady drivers are assured by tracking the cars 24x7, with the provision to connect to 103 (a women’s help line) and a call centre at any time of the day or night.

Yojana Deshmukh attended an awareness session at YMCA, Ghatkopar, Mumbai, and came to know about the free training provided by Stree Shakti Kendra. Yojana liked driving and had a driving license made but had never driven a car. The prospect of driving a car and becoming economically independent excited her and she graduated as a driver. She plans to save her entire salary for a secure future for her family. Yojana says, “I now live a more fun-filled and enjoyable life, being financially independent.”

The women earn upwards of Rs.15,000-20,000 per month. The twinkle in the eyes of the lady chauffeurs now sparkles more bright than ever as they vroom towards their dreams. As Shahin confidently asserts, “I will work wherever I can to make a better income. Tips and offerings included is an added advantage for keeping me self motivated to give good and timely service.”