Female bus drivers: a ticket for more freedom
Omkari’s family were outraged when they told them she wanted to learn to drive. It’s not a women’s job, they protested. Better to stick to small sewing jobs at home.
Omkari, who uses only one name and studied until grade 10, persisted. The battle was won once she convinced her husband, who runs a decorating business, to visit the Azad Foundation office where she was going to learn. Dedicated to “sustainable and dignified livelihoods for women without resources in transport to create a safe and equal world for all women”, the foundation would teach Omkari to drive and find a job.
It wasn’t easy, getting up at 4 a.m. to finish chores, then rushing to learn. But it was worth it. His first job was with a doctor. Then she got a business license and started driving taxis.
The stage of obtaining a license to drive heavy vehicles appeared to be a logical progression. In December 2020, 10 years after obtaining her first license, she applied. But jobs for female bus drivers at the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) are proving elusive. So while she waits, she teaches other women to drive.
An October 2014 survey of the world’s most dangerous cities for public transport for women ranked Delhi fourth. Hiring female drivers will certainly instill confidence and enable more women to use public transport. But in August, only 2.7 percent of DTC’s 28,949 employees, including conductors, were women.
DTC hired its first female driver, V Saritha, in April 2015 with announcements to hire more. Six years later, Saritha remains his only female driver.
“We want more female drivers in public transport,” Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said.
So what’s the problem ?
The first is a minimum height requirement. Previously, when buses had fixed seats, they measured 162 cm (5 feet 3 inches). Now, with low-floor buses and adjustable seats, women must be at least 159 cm (5 feet, 2 inches) tall to qualify.
The second is that drivers must have had a bus driver’s license for at least five years. But, Amrita Gupta, Director of Research and Advocacy, Azad Foundation said, “If there are no opportunities for women, why would they apply for such a license and then stay in their homes for five years?” ?
Maharashtra set a precedent. In August 2019, the national transport company inducted 163 women to drive buses. The height requirements were relaxed to 153cm, and women with one year of experience in commercial driving taxis could apply.
Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have started recruiting female bus drivers. This year in February, Uttar Pradesh announced that 19 women are undergoing training, after which they will serve a 17-month probation period.
âAll women want is a chance,â Gupta says.
Omkari has not given up on his dream of someday driving a bus. Driving, she says, is her ticket to mobility and knowledge. âIt gives me wings,â she said.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
Opinions expressed are personal