Women are doing phenomenally well across various fields in today’s time. However,when it comes to getting behind the wheels, men are predominantly ahead of women. There is a lack of women drivers in Indian public transportation services and one wonders why. Even in this 21st century, we are dealing with gender disparity, patriarchy and many such related issues.

To bridge this gender gap, a non-profit organisation, Azad Foundation,is working tirelessly to promote women drivers across the country’s transport sector. This Delhi-based organisation aims to train and endorse essentially underprivileged women, from poor socio-economic backgrounds, to become strong independent drivers.

Highlighting the testimonials of 12 exceptional lady drivers, Lady Driver: Stories of Women Behind the Wheel, anew book edited by Jayawati Shrivastava and published by Zubaan Books,brings out several inspirational stories of these women endowed with immense passion. The book contains the stories of 12 lady drivers, who come from difficult circumstances from across the country, trained by Azad Foundation in India under its Women on Wheels programme.

The various stories have been written by Runu Chakraborty,Sunita Thakur,Deepti Priya Mehrotra, Meenu Vadera, Anita Mathur and Shrinivas Rao. The storytellers have based these stories on detailed narrative interviews with the drivers, bringing together complex and unique stories of aspirations, struggles, setbacks and ongoing journeys. Namita Gokhale,director of Yatra Books, who launched this book in collaboration with Oxford bookstore at a literary gathering in the Capital recently, said, “This book is an inspirational book of testimonials by lady drivers. We have published this in Hindi too.

The more we spread the word about this book,the more people know that there are options for women to earn a living with dignity and nobility.” Founder and CEO of Zubaan Books, Urvashi Butalia, said, “We as a feminist publishing house felt that it was very important to publish this book, which maps the journeys of 12 women from poor, marginalised communities, who have transformed their lives by taking up the challenge of becoming women drivers.It is about women empowerment. This book is published in both Hindi and English.” “The last few decades have seen a number of interventions that take different approaches to the question of women’s empowerment: education, skill building, institution building, local governance and more. Azad’s chosen method of intervention focuses on women in rapidly urbanising modern settings.Here they have chosen to move away from a focus on skills like tailoring, embroidery, knitting or training as beauticians, nurses and so on. But why driving? For Azad, the choice of driving meant moving away from the beaten track, challenging patriarchal notions of women’s so-called inferior capabilities:this was crucial to their overall vision,” writes Shrivastava. One of the chapters is based on an amazing mother-daughter pair,where 42-yearold Savitri, who along with her 21-yearold daughter Poonam, is a professional chauffeur. They are the only two women drivers in Bhati Khurd village in Mehrauli.

Savitri says, “Sometimes people ask me in surprise, ‘What work do you do? You drive a car?’And my response is,‘Yes,and what’s wrong with that? Who says I can’t drive a car? Who says I can’t work?’ And then people respond, ‘Yes, you can probably do it, but we didn’t think you could.’ This is how people talk. I don’t have problems driving. I’m not scared. Even if the roads are very crowded, I just stop for a while if other people are rushing too much. I mean, what is the big problem? We’ll reach a few minutes later, that’s all.” Each story is unique and brings into limelight the reality check of women’s significance in today’s time. The book takes into cognizance the different thresholds that women cross, such as personal, social and economic concerns, to improve their lives. “None of the stories here is closed – in other words, the stories do not ‘end’. What we have here are slices from the lives of these women. The women themselves continue on with their journeys;for some their lives have moved on, for others there may have been setbacks not recorded here. None of the stories here should be seen as an ‘end product’,” opines Shrivastava.