By Kritika Kanwar
Women have always been known to be donning several hats. While some manage to have a smooth sailing, the ones belonging to the unprivileged lot keep juggling with responsibilities throughout their life and are hardly ever celebrated on the Women’s Day.
Meet one such woman – Laxmi (37). On a bustling road leading to Atta Market, Sector 18, Noida, Laxmi (with her face covered) is seen driving an e-rickshaw loaded with passengers, with great elan.
On a busy signal, she stops for a female passenger and asks her to share the front seat with her. Visibly reluctant to sit on the front seat, the female passenger refuses to board the rickshaw. Laxmi then asks a male passenger to vacate the back seat and drives comfortably with men sitting beside her.
At a time when women feel unsafe to even board a shared rickshaw in the NCR, she courageously offers ride to male passengers and claims to be earning Rs 600-700 per day.
A journey of self reliance
What started as a means to make both ends meet is now a business for her.
Her husband left her and her three kids — all in their early teens now —to fend for themselves and never checked on them. She then set out on a journey of self reliance and there was no looking back since then.
“I have been driving e-rickshaw for the past nine years. I was working as a cook earlier. But then I did not have flexible working hours. I later rented an e-rickshaw and started driving one. After a few years, I bought my own on loan. Now, I don’t have to look at others for any help,” she said.
Never been to school herself, she is quite particular when it comes to her children’s education. She has enrolled all her kids into a private school.
Navigating through busy sectors of Noida, she says driving an e-rickshaw gives a liberty to manage her house as well as finances. She said, “I complete my household chores by the time the rickshaw gets charged and can also supervise my kids.”
Does she feel safe with male passengers sitting beside her? Pat comes her reply – “I do not have the luxury to care about what bystanders and commuters think of me.”
So far, the commuters have been kind enough and accommodating for Laxmi. But government has played no role in helping women like Laxmi.
Having received no government aid, she says she had to sell her land back in her village to be able to afford an e-rickshaw.
Not the one to be defeated by adverse circumstances, Laxmi’s story inspires several women who might be finding a way out to battle odds stacked against them.
(The author works as senior sub editor with The Financial Express)