What do you think of women drivers? Do you feel the need to poke fun at them each time you see them behind a steering wheel. Do you smirk at them indulgently as you watch them painstakingly maneuver a car into a tight parking space? Do you go about proclaiming that women are bad drivers and God help all those who happen to be stuck behind them in peak hour traffic?
Well, Revathi Roy will look you squarely in the eye and tell you “It’s a misnomer to say women are bad drivers. Driving really has nothing to do with ones gender. It is a skill. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Who is Revathi Roy and why do you need to bother with what her opinions might be? Well no particular reason really. But if you are in Mumbai and wish to get yourself the services of a chauffeur driven cab to see the sights, you may want to look up the number for Viira cabs. As the cab pulls up at your doorstep, you will find that it is being driven by a smartly dressed driver in striped shirt and blue jeans. And of course, you may also want to take note of the pink lipstick, silver nail-paint and pear ear-rings. Yes, your cab is being driven by a women driver and an extremely competent one at that, let me add here. And if you’ve managed to put two and two together, you know this is where Revathi Roy comes in.
With a husband in coma and a child studying business management, Revathi Roy’s entrepreneurial ideas stemmed more out of financial necessity than a need to emancipate the women living in Mumbai. In 2007, she set up Forsche (which comes from, as you can guess, Porsche), a cab service exclusively for women. At a time when people couldn’t even conceive of women driving for a living, Roy was training and employing them to be strong and able drivers.
Due to some differences with an ally she let go off her brain child and started a new venture – or shall we say “adventure” – Viira cabs, earlier this year. This cab service, opened in association with another lady – Preeti Sharma Menon – also doubles as a female driver bureau, motor training school, and recruitment agency.
“Viira” means “brave woman” and the 155-hour training that is provided to all employees is tailored around instilling self confidence and the ability to handle themselves in all situations. In addition to traffic knowledge, road sense, grooming and customer relations, they are also taught basic form of martial arts. Once their training is over, a lot of these women find gainful employment in hotels and large corporations.
Doesn’t Roy worry about her drivers getting molested or sexually assaulted during the course of their job? She does, but all drivers are armed with batons and pepper spray and given instructions to return eve-teasing in equal measure with a good dose of thrashing. However, there is no doubt that Mumbai’s relative safety makes for a more ideal platform to launch this kind of an enterprise than any other city in India.
So what comes next? Roy and her partner Menon hope to launch a cycle-rickshaw project for women, which will be positioned outside railway stations and will cater to women alone. Will men be allowed to board this rickshaw? “No, no, no!” says Roy with a grin. Looks like men will have to arrange their own ride elsewhere.