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On The Road

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Suruchi Pawar & Pooja Salvi attempt to prove wrong the popular belief that women are bad drivers as they talk to Harpreet Kaur, a female Uber driver

These days, several women are picking careers that fall out of the bounds of conventionalism. And, that makes us extremely proud of their bravery and willingness to break society’s shackles. However, what is it that drives women to take up unconventional jobs? Read on as we talk to Harpreet Kaur to find out more about her life as a female driver for one of the most famous quick cab services in the city.

Being a taxi driver isn’t perceived as an ideal job for women. Did you always want to be one?
I come from Indore — my family is originally from Punjab, but we were raised in Indore. My father used to drive a loading auto for Coca Cola and ever since I was a young girl, I would tag along. I used to find it a lot of fun and that’s also how I learned how to drive. I got my driving license when I was 18-years-old and haven’t looked back since.

Eventually, I went to Dubai and got a job as a company driver — that’s where I started driving for a living. Then, in 2006, I moved to Mumbai after getting married, and still continued to drive. However, Uber was the best thing that happened to me. I enrolled two months after the service was launched in Mumbai. It gives me the freedom to work on my own terms, and provides me with the money I need to support myself. Uber has been a blessing in terms of savings and prosperity for me.

Does your family support your decision?
Fortunately, my family has been very supportive. I was lucky that neither my husband nor my in-laws have ever had any issues with my career choice. Even my  9-year-old son feels happy about this unusual job (although it feels very normal to me).

Do you enjoy your working hours?
I drive for a total of about 10-12 hours a day. My job with Uber gives me immense freedom and flexibility, time-wise. I can do household chores, take care of my son, spend time with family and go grocery shopping at will. I think that it makes it a great career option for women since they often have to take care of things at home.

What kind of safety precautions have you had to take?
We all are well-trained in self defense. They teach us karate and provide us with pepper spray. Also, once we are done with our drops, we never wait around in secluded or deserted areas —  we stop near police chowkis or hang out by the airport at night and we usually stay in touch with other fellow lady drivers over the phone. Sometimes, we even meet during our breaks, if we are nearby.

Do you have any specific preferences when it comes to accepting passengers?
There is no such option for drivers to do so. However, even if there were, I’ve never had an issue with a customer, whether it is a man or woman. But, we are often told by women passengers that while travelling late in the night or for longer routes, a lady driver is definitely comforting.

What sort of reactions have you received from passengers. Has there been anything that has stuck with you, funny or otherwise?
People say a lot of things — although, they usually always say nice things. A lot of them are shocked to see a woman driver pick them up. A man once told me, “I’m scared to sit with my wife when she drives, but not at all with you!” A  lot of people say that they will tell their wives about how they met a really skilled lady driver.

Do you think that your job is better than a regular 9-to-5 desk job? If so, why?
Yes, definitely! The freedom to spend time the way I want to and the choice to travel is something I will never get tired of. If I were asked to sit in one place and work, that would bore me eventually! This job can get physically exhausting, but at the same time it is fun, so it doesn’t take a toll on me.

Do you think you are making way for other women to join the field and also making it safer for women who travel late at night?
Yes, certainly. At this moment, there are six girls who joined after me — they say I inspired them. I always tell other women to join in — there around 3-4 more girls who are in the process of joining. We share our numbers with passengers, and they call us directly if they need a ride. This helps other women who travel alone at inconvenient timings. We are always around to help!

Do you think that women have to be more cautious when they’re travelling alone?
They do, but I also think that we should have the courage to step out and face the situations head on. Being strong is the key. If you are strong, no one can scare you.

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