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Darshana Sengupta – NE’s first woman driving instructor show women the importance of mobility while proving they aren’t bad drivers!
Darshana Sengupta is the first woman driving instructor in North East India. She started her career as an instructor in 2003 and has since taught more than 6000 students to drive. Darshana has a number of amazing achievements since she started her career.
Being a driving instructor isn’t the easiest feat for anyone. However, given her determination to change the belief that ‘women are bad drivers,’ Darshana took it as a personal challenge.
The first thing that Darshana told me was that the world will try to undermine a woman driver but never to pay attention to that. I was sitting in the driver’s seat and was holding the steering wheel for the first time with her.
In 2001, when she started driving, she was barely given any training since no one took her seriously enough as someone who could drive a car on her own. Despite all this, Darshana braved all the odds and now she is considered one of the best driving instructors in the region.
Gradually, she also began to understand why fewer women drive and lack the confidence to drive on the roads. According to Darshana, due to all the chores heaped upon them, women hardly find time to drive or to learn to drive. Especially during the morning rush hours, they have several chores around the house – right from cooking to ensuring that their kids and spouses reach schools and work on time. Along with this, they also need to make sure that they reach their own work on time, leaving them with barely any time to drive or to learn it.
Moreover, most driving schools start their basic lessons early in the morning as women are most often tied with ‘their’ household chores. Darshana paid attention to this existing gap on the roads and started her driving school specifically targetting women and their time schedules. Soon, she became popular across genders and now teaches men and women.
Her driving lessons begin at 9 am and last till 6 pm as those are often the times that are most suited to homemakers. These hours became a hit with the women and now there is almost a wait-list of people wanting to train with her.
As a matter of fact, I, too have faced the sexist stereotypes perpetuated by society and my own family. People around me have advocated and quite openly believed that women can never be as good drivers as men. They even believe that women’s nature isn’t made for roads! This is probably one of the reasons why it took me a really long time to brave taking up driving.
The whole attitude comes from the misleading understand that tools and machines are ‘masculine’ and thus, more suited for men to control them. Right from something as small as a screwdriver to something like a car is all associated with men and ‘masculinity.’
However, there are few studies that prove that fewer women are involved in road accidents in comparison to men. At the same time, it is also to be noted that according to the Road Transport Yearbook of 2014-15 there are only 11 percent women behind the wheel. There may be varied reasons behind this. But a major reason could be that most middle-class households own only a single car. Invariably that car belongs to men of the house and is used mostly and exclusively by them.
The scenario is changing in India and more and more women are getting behind the wheels. However, we still have a number of people cracking jokes or expressing fear when they see a woman driving a car or a two-wheeler.
Recently, a friend who lives in Kolkata booked a two-wheeler from a vehicle-booking app. He immediately received a call from the app and the person told him beforehand that she is a female biker. My friend was perplexed at the necessity that the woman felt to clarify and disclose her gender.
When he asked her about this, she told him that passengers often cancel the ride when she reaches the location and they realise that she is a woman riding a bike. Due to all this, she began disclosing her identity to the person booking a ride, rather than wasting her time and resources.
While some state governments are making efforts to make women a bigger part of the roads, society still has a long way to go in accepting women driving cars, bikes and buses. One such example would the introduction of the She-Taxi in Kerala. It was something I used regularly while I was there.
At the same time, women like Darshana bring hope by challenging the stereotypes and are getting more and more women to drive. They are breaking the typecast that roads belong only to men.
After winning several rallies in some of the most difficult terrains in North-East India, Darshana organised the first woman car rally there. She named it the ‘Women Power Car Rally’ and it was held near Guwahati in 2014. Darshana doesn’t just believe in teaching women to drive but also in helping them learn the importance of mobility.
Picture credits: Darshana Sengupta’s Facebook page
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Vijayeta is social development professional and loves to read, sometimes write and bing watch series.
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