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Mother of two breaks stereotype to become first female e-rickshaw driver in Chenab Valley
12/6/2023 11:11:23 PM
Early Times Report

BHADERWAH, Dec 6: The world turned upside down for 39-year-old Meenakshi Devi, a mother of two, almost a year ago after her husband was diagnosed with renal failure and put on weekly dialysis, forcing the family to wrap up their business and sell their car to clear the debt.
But instead of being overwhelmed by penury, she decided to tread the hard road of driving an e-rickshaw despite being discouraged by her relatives, neighbours and also the auto-rickshaw association. Her husband too was initially apprehensive about her taking up driving an e-rickshaw. Despite all odds, she became the first female e-rickshaw driver in the Chenab Valley and in the process an inspiration for the village women of the region aspiring to make a living for themselves and their families.
“I remember the day four months ago when I first entered the auto stand at Seri Bazar in Bhaderwah with my e-rickshaw. Not only the passersby, but my male counterparts also looked at me as if I was an alien among them,” Devi said.
Some rickshaw drivers even suggested she return home as they did not want to their customers risk their lives.
“Unfazed by the negativity, I was steadfast in my resolve and slowly gained confidence. I now earn Rs 1500 to Rs 2000 per day,” Devi said. “Today one can hardly find me at the auto stand as I am busy ferrying my loyal customers, especially ladies, throughout the day.”
She asserted that women prefer to ride with her rather than male drivers.
A year ago she was leading a happy life with her husband and two children in Bhaderwah town of Doda district when her husband was diagnosed with severe renal failure. “Very soon we landed up in piles of debt due to escalating medical bills,” she said. As debts kept mounting and all their savings got exhausted, the family sold their car and wrapped their business to clear their debt. Devi said she explored many options to earn a living till she learned that e-rickshaws were available for purchase at subsidised rates. Before long, the couple bought a three-wheeler on EMI and her husband Pammi Sharma it upon himself to teach her to drive the vehicle. “I feel happy that my hard work has helped in paying the medical bills of my husband and fulfilling the requirements of my minor sons, one of whom is recently enrolled in a private school,” Devi said with a sense of satisfaction. Her husband said he was not confident that Devi could drive an e-rickshaw in the busy market areas of Bhadarwah town. “But we were left with no other option but to give it a try for the sake of survival of the family.”
“Today, I am not only satisfied but also proud of her,” he said. “Due to the ever-increasing burden of medical bills, I went into depression as I kept worrying about the future of our children. I do not know what the future has in store for me as my both kidneys are not functioning but my wife made me feel at peace now,” he said.
President of the auto-rickshaw association Mohisin Ganai said Devi is an inspiration for other women who aspire to make a living for themselves and their households. “We salute her courage and support her fully.”
“At first, we did not approve of the idea of a woman joining the ranks of 236 men who drive auto-rickshaws in the town. We were apprehensive about her driving skills. But within no time, she proved her mettle and today she is the busiest auto driver in the town,” he said.
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