V Saritha is in total control as she manoeuvres around tight turns, smoothly slams brakes to avoid an unruly e-rickshaw and deftly side-steps a competing car whose driver gives her a menacing stare as he overtakes her.
Saritha, the first woman to join Delhi Transport Corporation as a driver, does it all like a professional without losing her composure. Currently on a training module in east Delhi, Saritha has her fellow trainee drivers as passengers. The Capital has seen women driving autos, cabs but a public transport bus would be an interesting first.
Saritha, from Nalgonda in Telangana, was working as a private chauffeur in south Delhi when she was hired by DTC last month. Saritha says she wanted to drive a bus to upend gender roles. “I wanted to send out a message that a woman can do any job that a man can,” says Saritha. If a 20-minute drive that HT experienced in her bus is any indication, Saritha is already a dexterous driver.
Many didn’t notice her when she stopped at traffic signals during the training drive, taking her for a man. When pointed out, Sarita agreed. “I know I hardly look like a woman. My father, a farmer, does not have a son, so he raised me like a son, always encouraging me to keep my hair short, wear shirts and trousers,” says Saritha, dressed in a blue check shirt and jeans, her hair cropped short.
Currently, there are 8,544 men on the rolls of DTC as drivers with another 4,500 working on contract. Besides, the public carrier has about 243 female conductors, but no woman driver. “My father is happy with the fact that I will have the distinction of being the first female DTC driver in the country’s capital. But my mother is quite apprehensive,” says Saritha, who drove an auto in Narayanpur in Nalgonda. She also drove a college mini bus in Hyderabad.
But Delhi is going to be the real test of her skills as a driver. “I have realised that driving in Delhi is most difficult, with heavy traffic and impatient drivers. I am worried about cycle rickshaws suddenly coming front of my bus out of nowhere,” she says.
In the past two weeks, as part of her training, Saritha has driven a DTC bus in all parts of the city, but driving in northeast Delhi, she says, is most challenging. “People just do not follow traffic rules here. I do not face much of a problem driving in Central and south Delhi,” she says.
Her driving instructor, Parvesh Sharma, is quite impressed with his student’s progress. “I have been training drivers for years now. When I was told that I would have to train a female driver, I was worried, thinking that a woman may not be able to drive a bus in Delhi. But Saritha has surprised me. She is the best among a group of 40 drivers I am presently training. The only woman in the group, she has turned out to be the fastest learner, has displayed great patience and discipline. She is going to be a good driver,” says Sharma.
Saritha knows that driving the actual route with passengers is going to be a different ball game. “Negotiating traffic may be easier than dealing with passengers who often force the driver to let them get down at signals.”
“What makes me truly happy is that female conductors have been inspired by me to become drivers.”