Most of us have seen the movie 'Sholay', the cult setter released in 1975. It has been praised by many for the dialogues, the story, the Plot but Sholay has seldom been viewed for the women empowerment. In her entry scene Basanti (one of the female protagonist) says 'Agar ghodi ho ke dhanno tanga kheench sakti hai to main tanga kyon nahin chala sakti'(Being a mare if Dhanno can pull the Horse cart then why can't I drive this cart?). It may seem to be just a dialogue, but it has a message, Why is women deprived from driving Public Transports? Even today very few women are allowed to drive taxis, autos, Buses and Rickshaw.
Feleeshya, was born in 1961.She is Ujjivan's customer since 2010. She belongs to a fisherman family in the coastal district of Kochi in Kerala. She is the eldest of 3 siblings. She could have accepted the cards life dealt her by marrying and settling down, like all her friends did. But instead she chose to pave a way, a road many women followed soon.
At the age of 17 Feleeshya went to an auto driving school in the neighborhood to learn driving. The trainer was surprised to see a woman willing to learn auto driving. The trainer initially thought she is joking but later agreed to train her. Her father passed away during the training. The responsibility of her family came upon her. What Feleeshya learnt just for fun came handy and she decided to take auto driving as a profession, and her journey as first auto driver in Kerala began 33 years ago (she may be the first lady auto driver in India too, though literature on internet enlists auto driver from Delhi who is driving auto since 9 years and a lady driver who is driving auto since 22 years as first lady auto drivers in India). A woman in a profession dominated by men was unheard of. The auto owners would not lend her autos. She found it difficult to convince the owners to rent autos. There were days when she would not get autos to drive. After driving on the roads of Kochi for few years Feleeshya left for Bombay (The city Mumbai was then called Bombay) to earn and save money to get an auto of her own. She worked in countries like Dubai, Kuwait, Quatar for years as house maid. She came back to India after 10 years, bought an auto from her savings and was set to hit the road. Scenario had changed now- non-acceptance had changed to surprise; people were surprised to see women on steering of a public transport.
Feleeshya has now been driving her own auto since the last 17 years. She has transcended all barriers, living and playing by the rules in a profession dominated by men. She does not have issues driving in the night. She says "My hanky is my best friend, I tie my face with it and no one knows it's a lady behind the veil". Wish life was so easy for all women travelling on the roads. Feleeshya did not get married because she had to take care of her mother and brother's family as her brother does not support his family. Ask her if someone misbehaves with her on the road how would she tackle the situation, she with a chuckle says "Main usko boom maar dungi (I will give him a boom)".She has learnt some basic steps of Karate from TV, has never got a chance to use it, but she is sure it will be handy if someone misbehaves. She has many loyal women customers who have her number. She never says no to take them to their destination especially if it's night as "A woman feels safer if another woman is on the wheels". Feleeshya feels that a woman's presence is absolutely necessary on the road and she encourages other women to come into this profession.
She is one of our first customers in Pallurthy branch. She took her first loan of Rs.10,000 from Ujjivan for repairing her auto. Since then she has taken 4 more loans from us. She currently has taken a loan of Rs. 29,000 for repairing her house and auto. She thanks Ujjivan for rescuing her and all her friends from the money lenders. With a voice full of innocence she asks why Ujjivan was not there when she needed money to buy an auto 33 years ago.
We are sorry Feeleshya we were not there 33 years ago but now we promise no woman will have to leave their house for need of money.
Things have changed from what she started. Kerala now is a state with highest number of women auto drivers. But she will always be the first amongst the lot. She is revered and respected. There was an article on her in the leading daily in Kerala. She has given many interviews on radios and local TV channels.
Feleeshya and all the women who want to make a statement of their life are our inspiration. Stories like this keep us grounded and help us realize that we are in the right direction and amongst right people.