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DRIVING AWAY TO EMPOWERMENT

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By Ruby Nanda

In their search for independence, an increasing number of women in Bhubaneswar are taking up driving lessons rather late in their life. They believe that driving a two wheeler or a four wheeler does not just give them mobility, it also makes them less dependent on their male family members.

It has also given them greater self esteem.

(pic courtesy; thedailystar)
(pic courtesy; thedailystar)

“I am no longer dependent on my husband to do small things for me. I pick and drop my daughter to tuitions and hobby classes, shop for groceries and do small chores all by myself,” says Mitali Routray, a 35 year old housewife in the capital city. She is justifiably proud of her achievement in learning to drive both two wheelers and four wheelers in her mid thirties.

“I learnt both only recently – after my daughter grew up. I feel it is no mean achievement to learn driving at the age of 35. It has given me tremendous confidence and a great sense of achievement,” she gushes.

Going by the number of driving licenses issued to women in the city, there are thousands like her in the state capital.

“From 2004, when our records were computerized, we have issued 13,898 driving licenses to women till now,” reveals LM Sethi, RTO I, Bhubaneswar.

The monthly figures of women issued driving licenses puts things in a better perspective. “We have issued 130 licenses to women in January this year and 112 in February,” Sethi says.

In case of homemakers, the need to learn driving mostly arises out of the daily chore of dropping kids to school and their umpteen tuitions and picking them after the classes. For working ladies, the motivation invariably is saving time and doing away with the hassles of travelling on public transport.

Preetimoi Parija, a state government employee, learnt to drive when she was well into her forties.

“I just got fed up waiting for the autowallah or some male member to drop me to office every day. I felt enough was enough and decided to buy my own Scooty and learn to drive it. Initially, I did feel a little awkward learning to drive while wearing a sari. But once I learnt driving, there was no looking back,” she says explaining her reason for learning to drive so late in life.

She now commutes to her office on her two-wheeler and is very happy with her decision.

A busy lifestyle, need for independence, availability of multiple vehicles, need to carry the children around are some of the reasons for women take up driving so late in life.

“Driving your own car certainly makes life a lot easier. We were earlier dependent on drivers or our husbands to take us to a place. But after learning to drive, I do my own chores, be it shopping, going to the beauty parlour, picking my daughter from school and tuition. With the ever increasing crime rate in the city, driving your car is actually bliss,” says 36 year old Rashmi Mishra, a crèche and play school owner.

A woman behind wheels might still be the butt of men’s jokes, but she no longer raises eyebrows on the streets. Yet the fair sex agrees that without the encouragement of their spouses, they could have not taken up driving.

“We had our own car before marriage, but only when my husband bought a car and enrolled me in a driving school did I learn driving. He encouraged me to learn in the new car and later bought a Honda Activa, which I learnt to drive and now use regularly. He encouraged me a lot – may be because it reduced the burden on him considerably,” chuckles Routray.

Rashmi agrees, “My parents were always afraid to let me drive. But my husband has given me all the support I needed. He now has full confidence in my driving skills,” she says.

No wonder driving schools have mushroomed in the city in the recent past. An online search reveals that there are more than 20 such institutes providing car driving training in Bhubaneswar. The number of women eager to learn to drive four wheelers has increased manifold in the last decade.

“We have been in the business since the year 2000. There has certainly been a huge increase in the number of women wanting to learn driving in the past decade. Around 30 per cent of our clients today are women, with many in their forties and fifties enrolling for the driving course,” says Manas Harichandan, manager, Modern Driving School, Bhubaneswar.