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India

Take Back The Street: Safety, Empowerment In India's Women-Only Taxis

A New Delhi cab company is only for females, a response to India's ongoing problems with violence toward women. The benefits are enjoyed by both drivers and passengers.

Change on its way
Change on its way
Devi Boerema

NEW DELHI —After the Delhi Gang rape in 2012, more Indian police have been deployed on the streets and stricter laws introduced in an attempt to better protect women.

But over 90% of women in New Delhi still say they don’t feel safe in their own city. And this fear has lead to a new niche in the transport industry — women-only services.

In New Delhi, Sakha Cabs, a female-only taxi service, has been running since 2008. Their goal is to get women to reclaim public spaces by offering them a safe ride home at any time of the day.

Chadni, a 24-year-old, is one of the company's drivers. "I have never felt as happy as when I first held the steering wheel of the car in my hands," she says. "I was in control of something for the first time in my life. It gave me an overwhelming sense of self-confidence."

In every way Chandni seems like any young Indian woman. She likes her Bollywood movies and loves talking about her boyfriend. But Chandni has broken a lot of taboos.

"My neighbors don’t like my job and my car. Sometimes when I park my car they spit on it. One day they burst all four of my tires. I think they’re jealous because they don’t accept this profession for girls," she adds.

Nayantara Janardhan is the chief operator of Sakha Consulting Wings. "Driving as a profession in India was, until now, unheard of for women to be doing. So you know we were determined to break the glass ceiling. We will break the gender stereotype and put women behind steering wheels. Today we have a demand that is far greater than the supply we’re able to provide."

Nayantara believes that it’s about empowering women. "Imagine you were in a bus driven by a woman or a car being driven by a woman. Or if you are in any kind of transport where the conductor is a woman, why would you, as a woman, feel unsafe? It’s going to make the city a more inclusive space for women who are normally the most vulnerable part of society."

Sakha trains all its female drivers, but Chandni says learning to drive was the easy part.

"One day after I finished work and was filling up my car, when another taxi pulled up beside me. The driver started abusing me. He said, ‘You are a driver, I am a driver so…," implying he wanted more. I called the police and they made him apologize to me."

Chandni says it’s worth it though. "Yes, I am a working person in my family. My father is earns money too, but I can earn more than him. If my father wants to make a decision he can also include me. He discusses everything with me now."

"In 90% of the cases these girls are the principal breadwinners of the families once they start earning here," says Sakha. "They become decision makers in the family. Sometimes this works well, but sometimes there is resistance. In some ways it's good because these are women who will not allow violence in their lives. They will not allow their family to pay a dowry to get them married. They have successfully negotiated their space very successfully."

Chandni says she now wants to become a bus driver and help more people travel safely in the city.

The Azad foundation is currently in talks with Delhi’s Transport Cooperation — the largest bus service operator in the city — to see how they can integrate women into their workforce.

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