In a society where traditional gender roles have long defined who does what, women in India have quietly faced various challenges, often going unnoticed. For many, driving has been viewed as a man’s task. Twenty-three women are breaking gender barriers and conquering new spaces.
Nagalakshmi, one of the female rickshaw drivers, reflects on her inspiring journey with a smile. In her childhood, she even feared riding a bicycle. Two decades later, she has become one of the first female rickshaw drivers in her community, defying societal expectations.
Nagalakshmi was married at a young age, she had two babies to take care of when her husband died. She says, “We had nothing to eat, and none of my relatives supported me.” Yet, her determination to overcome obstacles drove her forward. As she places her hands on the handlebars.
A tattoo peeks out from her forearm: the names of her son and daughter, Dhanujaya and Dhanalakshmi, now teenagers. ” I really like that my mothers drivers a rickshaw. Other women see my mother as an inspiration when they see her drive,” says 14 year old Dhanalakshmi.
Today, the young mother is proud to ensure that her children’s education is on the right track with her rickshaw. “People in the village did not believe me when I told them I was attending driving classes. My mother didn’t want me to attend the classes either, but I convinced her. Now, thanks to my rickshaw, I can provide my children with higher education and a better future. I don’t depend on anyone anymore,” she says as she starts the engine.
In addition to her daily route between Anantapur and Uppanesinapalli, her village, the motorised taxi has allowed her to start and expand her business. “I take the rickshaw to Garladinee. There, I buy guavas for 20 rupees and sell them for 60; it’s a good profit,” she says with a smile.
Joined by her friends Aruna and Pullamma, who are also part of the Sthree Shakthi Project’s inaugural group of female rickshaw drivers, Nagalakshmi heads to their monthly meeting. This project, facilitated by RDT, not only teaches women how to drive but also imparts invaluable skills, including self-defence, using taxi apps, basic mechanics, first aid, and emotional management.
These women, with their rickshaws, have emerged as role models in their community, shattering gender barriers that once confined them to the shadows. They emphasise that driving is not solely a profession for men; it presents a viable job opportunity for women, too. Their journey is an inspiring testament to the possibility of accelerating progress towards gender equality.
Text and Images: © Katia Alvarez Charro
Edit: Namratha Rao/RDT