Rickshaw drivers take a 'respect women' message to New Delhi streets

Some 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi have attended classes on respecting women and are spreading the word across the city, known as India's' rape capital.'

Nita Bhalla/Reuters
Narotan Singh sits in his auto-rickshaw in New Delhi. Singh is one of 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers who have undergone gender sensitization classes. The words on the sign read, 'This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women.'

Delhi rickshaw driver Narotan Singh was never interested in the problems faced by women and girls – his only interaction with the opposite sex was with females from his middle-class family such as his mother, wife, and daughter.

Weaving through the streets of the Indian capital, the 37-year-old driver would often frown or stare through his rear view mirror at female passengers wearing tight-fitting jeans or skirts, or make a comment about how they should not smoke or be out at late.

But Singh's chauvinistic ways are now behind him.

Last month his attitude to women was transformed by a class on gender sensitization run by the charity Manas Foundation and Delhi's Transport Department.

"When I was told that we have to do this training, I was not happy as I thought it was an unnecessary waste of my time – time which I could use to make some money by picking up passengers," said Singh from the driver's seat of his green and yellow motorized three-wheeler.

"But when I went into the training and understood the problems faced by women on Delhi's streets, and that I had the ability to change this, I realized that this is something that everyone should know about."

Singh is one of 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi who have already attended the classes and are helping to spread the message of respect for women across the city, which has become known as India's "rape capital."

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of reported rapes in India rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013. Delhi was the city with the highest number of rapes, reporting 1,441 in 2013.

Experts say the media attention surrounding the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 helped to raise awareness about safety for women on transport and in public places.

The attack, which prompted thousands of urban Indians to protest against rising violence against women, also highlighted the need to change the attitudes of men and boys in India's largely conservative and patriarchal society.

"We show the city's shocking statistics on rape and then provide anecdotes and pictures to drive home the point of how serious the situation is," said Smita Tewari Pant, a trainer on the gender sensitization from the Manas Foundation.

"We also explain that ... businesses will be affected as tourists will stop coming to Delhi if violence against women continues as it is."

But what has been most effective in engaging participants, said Pant, is the message that auto-rickshaw drivers are, in essence, the city's gate-keepers who have the power to change the situation by making women feel secure and respected.

The message allows drivers to feel that they are not part of the problem, but part of the solution, she added.

To secure their annual auto-rickshaw fitness certificate from the Transport Department, Delhi's 120,000 drivers are now required to attend the one-hour gender class every year.

Pant said the course had received a positive response and drivers proudly displayed stickers reading "This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women" in Hindi on their vehicles.

Singh said the course had changed his thinking so much so that he now talks to other drivers, as well as his friends and family, about gender equality.

The training should be expanded to taxi and bus drivers, he said, adding that if this kind of sensitization had started five years ago, the infamous Delhi gang rape may not have occurred.

"After the training, I realize working women's problems much better. They face many issues – they have to manage their home life and they have to deal with pressures at work so they should at least feel comfortable when they commute," said Singh.

"The training made me and other drivers think twice about our behavior towards our female passengers.

"We used to think 'I only had a little look at what she was wearing' or 'I only made that comment for her own good' but now we realize that it's really none of our business, and we should not judge women, but respect them."

This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Rickshaw drivers take a 'respect women' message to New Delhi streets
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today