Picture : Chand, the driver, Azad Foundation
Nirma is the oldest child of her parents, and was only educated till class 9 as her father and his family do not believe in educating their girls. This led to friction between Nirma’s father and mother. Nirma’s mother enrolled her in Women on Wheels program. She became a taxi driver.
Chand is from a conservative Muslim family. She was married off to a truck driver at a young age and has four children. But when Chand’s husband died in a road accident, she was left to fend for herself and the children. She had to move out of her house and star living in a shack. One day, she decided to enroll for the Women on Wheels program. But the going was tough. “I was mortally scared of driving and was afraid that I would hit someone.” She used to come to the center covered in a burqa from head to toe, change in the washroom and then go on with her training. She was provided a loan to support her family in lieu of the income she was loosing while in training. Chand has completed her training and obtained a license, and today is working as a trainer in the very same Maruti training school, where she trained. Chand radiates confidence today. She is a far cry from the burqa-clad woman that she once was. In her own words: “I can’t believe that I have an identity of my own. From being known as someone’s wife, I am Chand, the driver.”
The Women on Wheels program has empowered resource poor women to become professional drivers. The program started in 2008 in Delhi. Since then it has expanded to Jaipur, Indore and Kolkatta.
Mexican photographer Claudio Montesano Casillas spent two weeks following these pioneers in his series Crossroads. ““Just like we need women in parliaments, in board rooms and in various jobs, we need women on the roads. They transform spaces by bringing in a diversity and a perspective,” Vadera said to Wired Magazine.
Casillas shot Crossroad in February in New Delhi and Jaipur, two cities where the Azad Foundation offers its Women on Wheels program. The program has trained nearly 800 young women in four cities since 2008. “I thought it was a great initiative and really wanted to contribute to their success,” Casillas said to Wired.
In Mumbai, services like Priyadarshini Taxi, Women4women, and Viira Cabs, cater to female passengers, while giving drivers a marketable skill and living wage.