bright red auto, painted in a riot of blue and green, alighted on the streets of Lower Parel in March after completing a journey of 1,800 kilometres that started in Delhi ten days back. The red, painted on the three-wheeler, signified empowerment, solidarity, and also the support of the Vodaphone foundation which pledged 12.5 million rupees for this journey dubbed The Red Rickshaw Revolution (RRR).
The journey intended to raise awareness about empowered women, in the light of what happened on December 16, as there is palpable eagerness to make the revolution even bigger to highlight their accomplishments. "We are busy planning the next leg of the campaign and at the same time, we have committed to digitally empower the 12 women we met during the rickshaw journey, so that our relationship and bond continues," said Laura Turkington, country director of the Vodafone Foundation, the lead sponsor of the campaign, and one of the vehicle's three passengers. She, Sunita Chaudhary, the first and only woman to work as an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi and Carina Deegan, a foundation supporter, took turns driving the rickshaw."I am proud to be a woman as women bring new life into this world. A woman is powerful, if she chooses to be," says Chaudhary who is also a diehard fan of Shahrukh khan and a lover of biker boots and therefore believes that these two make for the best entrants in her auto.
Earlier in January, the Delhi government's transport department decided to provide free training to women to drive auto-rickshaws, with the aim of making them employable and also making city roads safer. Applications were invited from women and SC/ST candidates while transport minister Ramakant Goswami claimed that training was being conducted by NDMC as well as Maruti's Institute of Driving and Traffic Research (IDTR) at Sarai Kale Khan and Wazirabad.
However the response of women towards this provision has been low so far. Chaudhary, who is involved in training women to drive public transport, also says that none of those women ever ended up driving commercially and the first step then would have to be raising awareness about, "Ordinary women who today are doing extraordinary things." The idea came about when according to Turkington, she "wanted to do something different to give these women a voice and help share these incredible life stories and inspire others at the same time. I also wanted to raise funds to empower more women to do the same across the country. I thought of running a marathon, but the idea of driving an auto rickshaw seemed like an innovative way to engage people."
||I wanted to raise funds to empower more women. I thought of running a marathon, but the idea of driving an auto rickshaw seemed like an innovative way to engage people. — Laura Turkington
The project started in order to raise money for the Apne Aap Women's Collective, which works with sex workers in Mumbai's red-light district. When Turkington discussed the idea at her office, they decided to support the trip, as well as commit funds for two other NGOs — Breakthrough, which appeals to men and boys through the media and pop culture to help end domestic violence, and The Community Outreach Programme, (C.O.R.P) which helps women build skills and get employment. C.O.R.P will launch a Working Skill Center (WSC) in September from a third of the 5.1 million rupees ($92,000) that were raised from RRR. "The WSC will provide comprehensive vocational training to 300 women over a period of 3 years in the slum area of Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai. C.O.R.P wanted to bring together its experience and existing training and income generation programmes in order to start a multi-functional Working Skills Centre (WSC) but the funding had been a concern," said Stefano Funari, organisation, fund-raising and communications manager, C.O.R.P.
The women whom the RRR met on its way were identified with the help of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), which has also helped set up the bilingual website (www.redrickshaw.in) and provided real-time communications and managed the logistics for such a complex journey. The DEF team carried out careful research, searching for inspirational women, contacting many community leaders and social organisations across India to shortlist incredibly inspiring women. They then finalised 12 women to meet along the red rickshaw journey route and profiled the achievements of about 50 women across India on social media networks.