“Most of my customers have only high words of praise for me. But some people have acceptance issues. Once, a customer got really nervous about being driven by a woman. I had to assure him repeatedly that I knew my job.” Photograph: (Getty)
In countries like Saudi Arabia, women fight for their right to drive cars. Female motorists in India, however, fight for acceptance
Zamruud starts for work every morning at seven. So does her car.
What makes her relationship special with her sedan is that she is one of the few women taxi drivers in New Delhi. Unlike the women-only cabs plying on the city roads conceptualised to make women feel safe on the roads, Zamruud makes no distinction between men and women who book a ride with her on Uber. Unfortunately, this does not hold true for many of her customers.
“Sometimes the customer cancels the ride after looking at my photo,” Zamruud says adjusting her hijab. “One evening, a woman cancelled the ride four times in quick succession. I called her up to ask for the reason. She was taken aback by my call. She apologised saying that she thought it was a practical joke being played on her by a radio station or TV channel. She had never heard of a woman Uber driver,” recollects Zamruud.
By taking the steering wheel every morning, Zamruud dismantles stereotypes, one at a time. Not only is she a woman cabbie, she’s also a conspicuous Muslim woman dressed in a burqa. Naturally, many heads turn to look at her on the roads. “I like the attention I get. It does not upset me at all. At least I am doing something that makes people look at me with wonder in their eyes. When I am inside my car, I feel safe and powerful. When I take a break between rides, I just park my car to read a book or take a quick snack or file my nails,” she says flaunting her manicured fingers.
Zamruud dismantles stereotypes, one at a time. Not only is she a woman cabbie, she’s also a conspicuous Muslim woman dressed in a burqa. Naturally, she turns many heads on the roads. (WION)
Zamruud learned to drive after finishing school while awaiting college admissions. As part of the contract with the training centre, she worked as a cabbie with a women’s-only cab service. Her shift to Uber two years later came with both challenges and rewards. “Most of my customers have only high words of praise for me. But some people have acceptance issues. Once, a customer got really nervous about being driven by a woman. I had to assure him repeatedly that I knew my job.”
She recollects another incident involving Aamir Khan, one of the biggest Indian film stars. “I drove him around the city some time back. He sat in the front seat and kept talking to me. We were supposed to follow another car ahead of us. It was a luxury car and I had to rev up to keep up with its speed. Aamir ji got scared each time I pushed the accelerator. He kept telling me to slow down. I told him at last that there was no way we could reach our destination if we lost the sight of that car. It didn’t matter, he said. He finally used GPS on his phone for directions.” She adds with a hint of grudge in her voice, “He wouldn’t have told the same to a male driver.”
Fortunately, Zamruud’s family casts no aspersions on her driving skills. In fact, she and her mother are the only driving members of the family. Her father and two elder brothers do not know how to drive. She is not expected to let the men of the family take charge upon reaching home.
I drove [Aamir Khan] around the city some time back. He sat in the front seat and kept talking to me. We were supposed to follow another car ahead of us...I had to rev up to keep up with its speed. Aamir ji got scared each time I pushed the accelerator. He kept telling me to slow down...He wouldn’t have told the same to a male driver.
It is the perception that women drivers need to battle almost every day on the roads besides billowing traffic. Perceptions can only be countered by robust data. Unfortunately, opaqueness in nationwide data dealing with road accidents doesn’t allow for such exercises. Garima Bhatnagar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic (New Delhi), says “Gender segregated data on accidents is still not maintained. Since First Information Records are filed manually in the case of accidents, it is a tedious exercise to sift cases involving women drivers unless there is a specific need.” Replying to a question about cops’ perception of women drivers she says, “There has been no perception analysis in this regard. However, the traffic cops are known to deal with women drivers a bit more sympathetically even if their rough language suggests otherwise.” Bhatnagar rues, however, that there are still no policewomen driving their officers around. The driving constabulary is still an all men affair.
However, there are recent winds of change. Sanjay Beniwal, Special Commissioner of Police, Operations (Delhi), shares how there are now four Police Control Room (PCR) vans fully handled by women. A call for volunteers for driving roles sometime met with an overwhelming response from the women constables. They were then trained and deployed in vans. Beniwal jokes, “We had to train them to drive rash. PCR drivers sometimes need to rush to a spot in emergency and super safe driving may not be the best bet in that case.”
This pilot project met some resistance internally. Beniwal remembers, “There were concerns about police gypsies being snatched away from women drivers by criminals. But do the latter spare male drivers? Then there were questions pertaining to an all women team on PCRs. How effective would that be? Will an all women team be able to save itself, forget about providing safety to public? What if the weapons are snatched from women guards? Again, they get snatched from men as well.” It needs to be slipped in here that weapon snatching from police personnel has suddenly seen a surge in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir amid the ongoing turmoil.
Beniwal is optimistic about women drivers in Delhi Police. He has plans to induct more women in PCRs as their number rises in the force. Such is the commitment that is needed to counter jibes like, “Surely women should be allowed to fly the fighter planes, but who will park them?”
Zamruud knows how to park her car just fine, without a man's help.