Shanti the Driver
During our first day of official research in Delhi we scheduled to be picked up by Shanti, a driver trained by the Azad Foundation. Shanti has been a driver for three years, a job which allows her to provide for her two daughters, an 8-year-old and a 15-year-old. With the help of, Jayalakshmi, our translator, we explained to Shanti that we are in Delhi in order to learn from women and girls like her and organizations like the Azad foundation which are working on empowering and creating safe urban environments for women and girls. Shanti, almost immediately opened up to us and shared her story.
She had been married for thirteen years to an abusive husband. She would report domestic violence via a hotline that the Indian police has set-up for this purpose. Unfortunately, these calls didn’t stop the aggression long-term.
Through a friend, Shanti learned about the Azad foundation and started going for training to be a driver. The Azad foundation also offers empowerment workshops, where she shared her history of domestic violence and was able to learn from peers and facilitators to do small acts to stand up for her-self. She started by doing little things like not cooking dinner and not abiding his demands. This went on for a year until her husband decided to leave her.
Now, she is proud to share her story as an example to other women. She was even featured in a popular TV show, where a TV star rode her cab and she told her story.
Shanti accompanied us during our visit to RK Puram, a colony for people with Leprosy. She participated in the interviews. While we were talking with Soraj, a resident at the colony. Shanti was approached by another woman. The woman told Shanti that her husband had died, she had a daughter and had to sell all her jewelry to provide for her family. She asked Shanti how she could help her. Shanti talked about the Azad foundation, but the woman wasn’t interested in being a driver. Shanti went on to share her story and told her that with perseverance she would be able to fend for her daughter.
While we were driving back, we asked Shanti if anything had surprised her during our interviews that morning. She said that she felt fortunate for what she had. She had never talked with women living in this kind of poverty and she was happy to be able to share her experience and story. Shanti said she would share the experience with her daughters and keep on serving as a role model for women, who like her, are/were in an oppressed and marginalized position and need the strength, network and access to jobs to provide for their families and act under their own free will.
How might we create networks between role models like Shanti and vulnerable women like the ones we met in RK Puram, to nurture empowerment and social mobility?