In the year of our establishment, where there were almost no professional women chauffeurs in cities where we work, the Women on Wheels (WOW) initiative has enabled now close to 700 women to become employable as a chauffeur by acquiring professional qualifications. Almost 380 women that participated in WOW are currently practicing as professional chauffeurs across the cities where we work.

In Delhi, we are working closely with the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW), via the 181 Emergency helpline. 181 is a helpline dedicated to women facing violence and since March 2016, DCW – through its allied NGOs – has employed women chauffeurs from Sakha to drive the 181 cabs to the rescue of victims. Sakha has also placed the first ever women bus driver with Delhi Transport Corporation in 2015. In Indore, 5 of our trained chauffeur were placed with the Municipal Development Corporation, MCD.

Thanks to gaining remunerative employment with dignity, together with a sense of empowerment and strengthened agency, our women have transformed into self-sustaining individuals who take control of finances, with many investing into physical assets, education and healthcare – for themselves and their families. Each woman chauffeur has a bank account in her name, understands the use of an ATM and has invested in various saving instruments such as ‘recurring deposits’, life insurance policies, etc. Many were able to delay marriage, renegotiate relationships in their families and many found the strength to walk out of abusive relationships. Many have become change agents in their communities.

We have pioneered and successfully established the idea of women professional drivers in Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata and Indore

One of our commercial driver, Lalita was sponsored by ASBAE to attend a conference in Bangkok to share her journey of empowerment.

In 2017, Azad Foundation selected 6 Commercial Drivers from Sakha and conducted a comprehensive driving faculty training module. After the training, they were inducted as the first batch of women trainers into Azad Foundation, paving a new career path for the many women to follow.

Stories of Change

Embracing Change – Nima

Names have been changed

The day Nima was born, her father also got a government job with Delhi Development Authority as a gardener. Hence, she was considered a lucky charm and brought up with lots of love and affection. Her father passed away when Nima was 2 years old. Luckily for the family, their mother got the job in his place and was able to earn a living supporting the entire family. But the going was tough. Her eldest sister was married off at an early age of 16 years. During this time, their only brother was studying in the evening school and used to work in the morning delivering newspaper and selling at a vegetables market to contribute to the family income. Nima was only able to complete 8th standard – she attended class 9 and 10 but could not pass.

Nima, now 36, was married at 19 into a joint migrant family that earned living as scrap dealers. Nima gave birth to two children, Payal & Jitu. One day when she was learning sewing at a community centre, she heard about Azad Foundation and Women on Wheels for the first time. She really liked the idea of women learning to drive and decided that one day she would learn herself but felt that the programme was not for her as she could not work as a driver, not being allowed to step out of house.

However,later on things started to change in her family. Since Nima’s husband has always worked in the family venture, he had never had much say in family decisions and had always been completely depended on his father. Her father-in-law used to take care of all their needs in terms of food, clothing and money required for the running of the household. Nima was never given any money beyond that. When the time came, her father-in-law refused to send Payal to a good school, and later completely refused to send Jitu to get education. Nima fought her way to get good schooling for her kids, and that’s when her father-in-law told them that they should start fending for themselves and their children. Her husband got separated from the family business and they were given a small section in the house for themselves. Her husband started drinking because he was unable to handle his work and the responsibility towards his family.

Nima started doing small jobs like stitching beads and making falls for sarees to earn a living. But, depending on the work she got, she would earn only aroundRs.100-200 a day. Her husband’s earnings were erratic and his drinking continued regularly. She vividly remembers a time when for seven days there was no money to buy food. She only had bread and she fed Payal and Jitu bread with milk while she herself ate bread with chutney. 3 years went by like this. She tried to help her husband by borrowing Rs 25,000 from her mother to help him start his own business. But within 6 months there was no money and no business. At that point, she decided she needed to do something to stand on her own feet.

She called Azad Foundation and enrolled herself for Women on Wheels training. This was in 2011. Training took time as she felt sick and her brother also passed away, but after eventually completing her training, she soon got her first job as a private chauffeur working for a visually impaired woman, with help from Sakha consulting Wings. As she says, she’s learnt so much on this job, learning how to conduct herself, being professional, empathic and patient. From having no stable income, she started earning Rs.6500 a month. After working for 2 years as a private chauffeur, she joined Sakha Cabs for Women by Women, earning Rs 9,500 per month.

Presently her salary increased to Rs. 10,600, and earns additional incentives of Rs. 2500-3000 per month for night and overtime duties. Initially she used to work only during the day but now she is also doing night duties. Her confidence level has increased and she is having a great run working with different clients, sometimes including a Bollywood star Mr. Aamir Khan!

Nima has through her hard work and dedication managed to gain financial stability now. Unlike herself, she would like to give an opportunity to her children to get a good education and enroll them for various extra-curricular activities. Her children call her “Super Mom”.

She plans to buy a Bullet Bike for her daughter, send her son to a cricket academy and teach him how to cook. She also wants to buy her own plot of land and drive her own car with Sakha.

And what she says when asked why she chose driving as her profession?

“This is my way of giving back to the society, by opening up a different employment option for women, so that tomorrow any woman has the opportunity, means and choice to become a lady driver.”

Boundless Courage – Hema

Names have been changed

There are some people that never give up no matter what the odds. Hema, a resident of PuraniKondli in east Delhi, is one of them.

After having lost two brothers over a period of few days when she was in class VIII, she had to leave her studies to support her parents at home. She did that uncomplainingly, refusing support from her teacher who wanted to help her with studying further. She did manage to do her Xth from open school though.

Married off when she was 18 years old, she soon learnt that her marriage was not what she was led to believe. Her husband was earning only Rs. 1500 per month by making the ‘chics’ (traditional blinds for windows). After paying for food and shelter and loan repayment, they were left with only Rs 100 to survive. Hema had lost her 6 month boy to diarrhea and almost lost her daughter too because of not being able to pay for the medical care. That jolted her into ‘doing something about her life’.

So five years ago, after hearing about Women on Wheels from another trainee Poonam, she courageously decided to learn driving.Despite her life being a series of endless chores taking care of her four children and her youngest son, being then only one and half years old, she was determine to succeed. It took her 10 long months. But her husband supported her through this, looking after the youngest till she got back home. We could say he was only doing his share of the work, but as Hema says ‘if your husband does not drink, does not bash you up whenever he feels like venting, and on top of it helps you with household chores – you have to consider yourself blessed!!’ Hema knows this, as she has been witnessing life of her elder sister whose husband is the opposite case.

After appearing for a couple of interviews, Hema landed her first job. She says joyfully, that by then her third born daughter was getting ready to go to school – and she decided to get her admitted into a private school. Later on, she was also able to put her youngest son into a private school, where hopefully both will get better quality education.

In 2013, Hema got her commercial license and joined Sakha Cab Hire services. She used to be very scared of driving at night, given the neighbourhood she lived in. Today, her inner demons are at rest and overcoming her fear has made her so strong and self-confident.

With the income she has been earning as a chauffeur, Hema invested into two small plots of land. She got a loan of Rs. 60,000 from Sakhato register the land that she purchased in her name. She is hopeful that in the coming years, she will be able to build her own house.

She is proud that today she can meet all her needs and support others. Earlier this year her husband got injured at work and was unable to work for a month and half. Hema did not worry. She managed his treatment, and ensured the household functioned without any problem.

There used to be days, those hardest ones, when there would be nothing to cook for two three days at a stretch. Recently, Hema threw a celebration for her son’s birthday, managing it all with her own resources.

But there is no bitterness in Hema’s mind for all the difficult times she has had. She is thankful to be where she is at now – a supportive husband, four joyful children and a job that has given her self-esteem, security and ability to support her children fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

Driving away from domestic violence – Mili

Names have been changed

Mili’s story reads like an inspirational story, drawing strength when there was none, hoping against hope and emerging as a “Survivor”.

Miliwas married off when was just 14 years old to a family in a village in Uttar Pradesh. However soon after her husband developed a relationship with his sister-in-law (younger brother’s wife). Nobody listened to her or believed her and told her that it was her paranoia. Things got harder for her, she became a victim of domestic violence and started remaining sick.

Around that time, a son was born to her. After 7 days after the birth, she developed high fever. She was denied medical help like before. The fever affected her brain and she lost track of people and descended into a state of mental instability. Finally, her mother intervened and decided to bring her back. At first, her in-laws refused, saying this was an internal matter but later after the Panchayat was convened, it was decided to let Mili go back with her mother.

It took many months of treatment for Mili to started recognizing faces and her condition improved.She also filed for a divorce but was unable to retain the custody for her son. After she got well, there were other financial problems in the family which forced to take up a job as a maid on recommendation of her neighbor. Her salary then was about Rs. 5000 Per month.

Milicame to know about Azad from her friend, after she had been working as a maid for 2 years. She and her sister (who is also a driver at Sakha today) decided to join the Azad training program. Initially she faced resistance from her mother, however she was supported by her father and uncle and she managed to complete her training. Miligot her first job within one month of completing the training program with a salary of Rs. 7000 Per month. After the contract of her first job got over, she was placed with in a second job with a starting salary of 9500 Per month.

After working in placement for close to 2 years, Mili decided to join commercial services. Before joining the job, she had financial problems, her dad had a rickshaw and met with an accident 3 years ago while taking her to doctor when a biker hit him. Today both Mili and her sister are drivers with Sakha and are the sole earning members of the family. When asked about her learnings, she says the best thing is that her life has got a meaning now.

Mili participates in Azad events whenever she gets a chance and spreads the word about Azad among her friend circle. Other girls from her locality have joined Azad as a result. She remains positive despite her struggle in life and believes that in time, things will get better. Currently, the thought of remarriage is far from her mind. She is happy at where she is now and hopes to realize her dream of having her house soon.