Kolkata: Sampa Nandi worked at a survey company, parlour, sold cosmetics and garments before she took control of the steering wheel. A single mother, it’s been two years since Sampa has been driving on the streets of Kolkata. An Ola-Uber driver-partner, she initially began driving to support her family. On International Women’s Day, she says not once has she regretted her decision.
To begin with, her family was resistant towards her profession. Today, her daughter, a class 10 student, is proud of her mother who makes a living in the completely male-dominated field of app cab drivers.
The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy on the world. Sampa was supposed to get her car delivered in March 2020, the month PM Narendra Modi declared a nationwide lockdown. “Those months were extremely rough. I didn’t know what to do,” says Sampa, a resident of Bijoygarh, Kolkata. Her car arrived in June 2020. Since then, there has been no looking back for the change driver.
Of course, society has come a long way in its approach to women, but still, each day, when people see or hear of women driving, phrases such as ‘unsafe’ and ‘a profession where she doesn’t belong’ come to the fore. Sampa, too, has to fight obstacles thrown at her every day. Initially, it was her mother-in-law who didn’t support her. But Sampa found courage in her sister, Rakhi. In fact, it was her sister who enrolled her at a driving school, spoke to the mother-in-law, and encouraged her to hit the road.
Not even Sampa’s daughter was supportive of her decision. But things changed when she worked tirelessly during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Her friends’ fathers drove cars, but her mother was a driver. She didn’t like that. But when the pandemic hit, and I drove around the city with patients, she felt proud,” says Sampa.
Driving, especially for a woman, comes with its set of challenges, but Sampa highly recommends it to other girls. In fact, she says, the number of women drivers in Kolkata, which is somewhere between 20 and 25, would have increased had Covid-19 not hit.
While Sampa is happy that women are steering a shift in societal attitudes, and there are passengers who show her great encouragement, some actually cancel a booking on hearing a woman’s voice. “There are some male passengers who want to get close, but then I tell them to follow rules and sit in the back. You can’t change the mentality of society. You just need to do the job,” she says bluntly.
As a woman driver, she also gets her share of derogatory comments, especially from “elderly yellow taxi drivers”. But she is hopeful, and says the scenario is gradually changing. “At times, when a truck driver sees me driving, he deliberately pushes me to the edge of the road. You will always find such kinds of people. But we shouldn’t lose hope.” Drive on, is all we say.