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Delhi auto rickshaw driver Bilkis Khan aims to drive a bus

Onika Maheshwari/ New Delhi 

Indian women are breaking into male bastions including driving public transport vehicles. One such bold woman is Bilkis Khan; she ferries commuters in her auto rickshaw in Delhi to support her family of three children.

Bilkis Khan told Awaz-the Voice that like all women she too wanted to lead a normal life as a homemaker, taking care of her family and managing the house. However, during 17 years of her marriage with a person who was addicted to alcohol and drug, happiness and stability eluded her,

Two years ago, this Muslim woman took a bold step of separating from her husband to take charge of her life.

“My illiterate husband did not want my children to study. He was an alcohol and drug addict. I worked in the housekeeping department in a hostel but that money was not enough for us to lead a normal life.” She said.

Bilkis Khan at Taj Mahal, Agra

Bilkis had studied up to the 8th standard. “My parents have left this world. I had to find a source of income to maintain my children and give them a good life and a bright future. My sister, who is a bus driver, suggested that I drive an auto rickshaw for a living.”

Bilkis Khan told Awaz-the Voice, “I joined 28-day training for autorickshaw driving under the Delhi government scheme. At its end, I got my driving license. The course and license fees was waived off”. 

Thereafter, she joined the ETO company that has hubs across Delhi. “Each morning, I take auto rickshaw number 1382 from the hub and ferry passengers across the city.”

Bilkis Khan admits initially she faced difficulty as the male drivers did take her entry into their domain kindly. “They asked me to remove my auto from the auto stand. I had to fight and stand firm on my ground. Some even used cuss words about me but I did not yield.”

Gradually, society accepted her and other women auto drivers. “Even today many passengers are afraid to sit in my auto because they think that a woman can only cook; driving an auto on the roads is not their cup of tea.”

Auto driver Bilkis Khan said initially too she was shy to drive an auto rickshaw as I am supposed to solicit passengers at the intersections and roadsides. “Gradually I found people were happy to ride in my auto; many praised my driving. This encouraged me.” 

After this, she realized that auto driving is better than working for someone else or cleaning and tidying up someone’s house. “I am not only the auto driver but also the driver of my life. I get a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 from my company out of which I pay Rs 4500 as rent for my house, fees of my children, and buy groceries.” 

Bilkis Khan at prayer time

Auto driver Bilkis Khan said she is happily living with my children in a rented house in East Delhi. Her elder daughter Sija Khan, 17, has joined a college. Her younger daughter Zoya, 15, and son Ayaan, 10, are in school.

Bilkis Khan says she wants to make her children financially independent. “They should stand on their feet, especially my lovely daughters. I will not let them work till they complete their studies and are fit to start earning.”

“I separated from my husband two years ago. I don’t remember my wedding day but I remember every penny I earned through my hard work. I thank my sister who showed me this path. I want to become a bus driver like my sister in the future.”

Auto driver Bilkis Khan says, “It has been more than a year since I have been driving an auto. I mostly park my auto near Lotus Temple, Kalkaji Temple, ISKCON Temple, Nehru Place, Akshardham Temple, or outside the metro station.”

Our electric auto company has given me a target of collection of Rs 650 per day. I work under the guidance of Mansi Madam from my auto company Hub. If my auto stops in the middle of the road, I can leave it there after informing the company. I can also do minor repairs.”

Bilkis Khan says that after completing the household work by noon and sending the children to school, she leaves for her job. “Sometimes I drive even at night. I drive an auto for about 8 to 9 hours a day. Sometimes there is a squabble even over the fare of a ride but that’s part of my job.

Her company has also launched a mobile application called Sojo app for booking online rides round the clock, she said.

In this era of competition, Bilkis Khan takes passengers to their destinations through both online and offline rides. Recently she was conferred with the Pink Auto Rider Award in Delhi.

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Bilkis feels women don’t lag in any field. “If a woman is determined, she can do anything; society has to respect her because she is not asking for anything.”

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