Women taxis: the need of the hour?
2011 was the year, third was the month and eight was the date! March, 8, 2011- the day when the world celebrates International Women's Day. This was the day when Meghalaya became the first Northeastern State in India to get 200 women cabs, meant exclusively for female drivers. An opportunity for the matriarchal State to give its women the freedom and the opportunity to walk out of the four-walled confinement and prove to the world that matriarchy here does not exist in scriptures but also in practice.
Days of hope for 'graduates to be' like me that at least we would earn some money until our results were declared, had started to infest our minds- more so, we were beginning to seek solace at the fact that we would not be 'unemployed' to say the least!
200 was the initial number of cabs rolled out- 100 in pink-white meant for ferrying passengers within the city limits and the other 100 in green-white to cater to the needs of rural areas.
The zeal and enthusiasm however seemed to gradually fade away when only 3 or 4 women-driven cabs were visibly seen plying the roads of Shillong 6 months after the zealous initiative. Oh! How I grieved at the fact that I could not drive one, for my 3rd year classes were still on… Well, at least that would have made it 5.
Anyhow, in the month of October the same year, the Regional Transport Authority (RTA), who earlier claimed that the women-only cabs invited significant response later, cited that women were less responsive towards the initiative! This however irked me, the reason being that after about seven months of observation, in October, the RTA decided to hand over these taxi permits to the male drivers!
But the question here lurked- was the initiation of 200 cabs and permits enough? Was this beginning sufficient to invite response from the women-folk? Of course it was not at all sufficient because just 8 months later, the excellent initiative became an utter failure.
Four years down the line, the ignored beauties in pink and green are still seen plying the city roads but with male drivers.
Reasons for failure
Meghalaya which boasts of its matrilineal descent system is often assumed to bestow upon its females a sense of respect and pride and often assumed by outsiders as being a female dominant society. However, it is a sorry sight to note that the womenfolk of the state have yet been unable to find a place even in the village panchayats, let alone the society's acceptance for them to drive a male dominated periphery.
Speaking to one of the male drivers in the city, he cited that among the many reasons for the failure of the initiative was the restricted access of women's cab to only the women and children, barring men. In his own words,"how can women drive a local taxi when only women and children are allowed to be carried. This will not even help to cover the expense of petrol."
Moreover, women are often seen as vulnerable beings and subject to various forms of exploitation and inequalities and the fact that they would be intruding into a male dominated territory makes them even more endangered and subject to exploitation.
Moreover, the various responsibilities of a woman ranging from a daughter to being a mother pressurizes her to an extent that it leaves no scope for her to leave behind her family in search of financial stability. Here is where the role of male counterparts come into effect. The cooperation and a welcome approach towards this initiative by them also plays an important role in this regard.
Furthermore, keeping in mind a woman's vulnerability, it would do good to equip these cabs with protective equipment for the safety of the drivers too. It would do good to train these drivers before they are sent into the actual field.
However, the most important thing in this regard would be awareness for women.
Well, all this requires proper planning and gradual implementation time. Many Indian states are yet to pick up this trend, hence, the very fact that this Northeastern state had initiated this practice is in itself an achievement. However, the sudden and untimely demise of this scheme in just 8 months raises questions and makes us ponder upon the various reasons of its failure.
Terms such as empowerment, matriliny and equal opportunity are made to stand at an altar at the failure of such initiatives. Let alone women empowerment, ensuring equality at certain domains is the need of the hour!
By Shweta Raj Kanwar