Many of us believe that riding an auto rickshaw is just men’s profession but we know a woman who showed everyone that women are not beneath anyone, Hemlata kushwaha.
Hemlata, who has seen life play cruel games with her but she found a way to go on and win. Today she is recognized and respected for her strong and fierce personality. Her father runs a chaat stall while her mother works in a garment industry; with some savings from her parents’ earnings, she enrolled herself in a dance class. Soon she started performing Ghoomar (Rajasthan Folk Dance) on stage so that she could also contribute financially to her family, but was happy to pursue her passion. Her friends and family appreciated and encouraged her talent.
After her marriage, her life became miserable as her husband and in-laws demanded colossal dowry from her parents. Hemlata and her parents were agonized, fretted and persecuted for not satisfying and fulfilling her husband’s financial demands. After some time, she left her husband’s house and moved with her parents along with her 4 years old child.
Later it became difficult for her to manage things as she had to brace her child and parents too. Tired but not dejected, “If I have to change my life, I must begin with myself. I’m not going to accept defeat, I’ll fight.” Hemlata said. She didn’t have enough education to get a job. She began learning auto-rickshaw from her brother. Then she got herself a driving licence without knowing driving. Soon she got an auto-rickshaw financed for herself and ferociously jumped into the male-dominated profession.
Her driver community didn’t support her as she got the much better response from passengers than her male driver community member. Gender discrimination in the workplace is common in India. This demoralizes women from joining the work and living a financially independent life.
During her initial journey of riding the rickshaw, she was often maltreated, verbally abused and mentally strained. Despite all the abuse and foul plays, Hemlata didn’t look down. Hemlata does not want to confine herself to the auto- rickshaw. She’s now got a licence for heavy vehicles and is keen to try her hand at driving a truck or a bus. She believes that if more women become bus drivers in the city, women commuters will feel safe.
The Jaipur Metropolitan Auto-drivers Trade Union took the Initiative and has expanded its executive council and made the only woman driver of the city its secretary. She is now very much confident and can stand for her own like she did the same when she met with an ex-chief minister of Rajasthan to discuss the problems faced by her colleagues. She’s now working to make things better in her profession, she thinks that Auto trade Union should raise their voice against the administration to make arrangements for providing cold drinking water, garbage bins and some shade at the auto-stands, which could be helpful for them and as well as for the passengers also. During the monsoon, passengers have to cover quite a distance to reach the autos and the drivers also suffer. The lighting at the stand is very poor, women commuters feel insecure and woman drivers of course always face risks. Hemlata wants to work on these issues and also helps in improving things. She also wants to change people’s perception towards women in the society, because men don’t own any profession and she said that, she would love to see more women auto drivers.
“She says, ‘We can solve our problems. Once people get used to seeing women driving autos, they will start respecting them. And women too will begin to feel more confident.”