Shanti Lakra confidently zooms through the streets of Ranchi, negotiating the pot holes, traffic and surprised onlookers in her pink auto rickshaw.
Her passengers, only females, feel comfortable in her auto, happily chatting with her about their daily lives, discussing the latest films, asking Shanti about her unusual profession as an auto driver. “I had never thought I will be an auto driver,” says Shanti. But her confidence on the road hardly would make you think so. When Shanti Lakra decided to become a rickshaw driver in 2013, her family was doubtful that ‘a woman can drive’.
But today, Shanti is a successful single mother as well as a popular rickshaw driver. Shanti was one of the first women auto drivers in Ranchi in 2013, under the Pink Auto Mahila Service (PAMS). PAMS is an auto service which trains women from marginalised and tribal backgrounds as auto drivers to cater to women commuters. However, Shanti’s entry into a male-dominated profession was not what she had aspired for. “I never thought I would be an auto rickshaw driver. Sometimes I feel weird being the only woman driver in the parking lot with other men,” she proudly reflects as she readies her two daughters for school and packs their lunch. Shanti was initially pushed to become a breadwinner for her family due to circumstances when her husband abandoned the family to live a life with another woman. Shanti though distraught in the beginning, was not ready to feel sorry for herself, neither was she going to stop living. As her luck would have it, PAMS was holding a training camp for female auto drivers next to her children’s school and she decided to join it. Even though people around her expressed scepticism about a woman’s ability to drive or even the utility of learning to drive for a housewife. “They would say I go there to pass my time,” says Shanti. But she pushed on.
Today she is the sole breadwinner of her happy, little family. She is putting her daughters through school and hopes to see them as successful self-reliant women. “Had I kept thinking about my husband, I would have never achieved anything in life. I don’t have anyone’s support today, but I am determined to make it on my own. I want to educate my children and see them succeed in life,” she says resolutely. The pink autos have not only ensured safer public transport for women but also pushed individuals like her into what was essentially a male-dominated profession, dismantling gender stereotypes. Empowered by her independence and her achievements, Shanti says with determination, “I will never give up. I will continue to move ahead”
Ambedkar Nagar villagers were not receiving their quota of ration until a VV correspondent intervened.
A MBBS student from Kashmir, stressed by exams and the pandemic, uses art to unwind.