Me Powaikar December 2017

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In the past few years we have witnessed the so-called weaker sex change many roles and go from strength to strength, from being a homemaker to triumphantly making her mark in every field hitherto unavailable to her. Today it is commonplace to see a female breaking the stereotype to participate in such industries. Earlier a person’s choice of career used to be determined by his or her biological nature as a result of which women would choose to put their role as a wife and mother ahead of career decisions. They would often opt for part time careers based on their spouses’ jobs and his financial capacity to raise their kids. These would often have fewer constraints on them so they could balance being a working woman plus a mother but the choice ultimately would be to place the family first. There would be no parental or family support for women entering male fields. Thus lack of support ensured that women chose a different route to fulfil their professional dreams.

We’re living in an age where women are bringing home the gold. Our girls have started creating history in fields which men once considered their divine birth-right. With a collective pledge to break the glass ceiling, they have taken to proving their worth and showing the world that for them, the orthodox limitations of the ‘kitchen’ has been replaced by an ocean of delightful possibilities. Today, a little girl is being taught that she can lead a school, a company, or even a government if she desires. They must follow their dreams so things change. As we see more women achieve greater roles in the corporate world, there are some career paths that are still considered completely male-dominated. The women that break these stereotypes and carve their way to success in these unconventional fields capture everyone’s hearts and give courage to those who are dreaming of similar careers.

One such admirable woman is Sheela Gaikwad who lives in Sangharsh Nagar and drives an auto rickshaw. A married woman, she wanted to supplement her husband’s income to have a better life for the family. It was a chance opportunity that made her enter this male-centred turf.  Growing up in a family that didn’t differentiate much between their 2 sons and 2 daughters, unlike most Indian lower middle class families, Sheela was given a good upbringing. She cleared her 10th standard and was married off. Soon she had a son and daughter of her own. A single income family always faces financial difficulties. To augment it she joined Creative Handicrafts in Andheri, an institute that imparted training in tailoring, toy and handicraft making etc for women. Sheela joined it but wasn’t enamoured by such tasks. The institute was run by missionaries. A collaboration with Spain sponsored women being trained to drive an auto-rickshaw like they do there so in 2005 Sheela Gaikwad became one of the 4 women to learn and get a license to drive a 3 wheeler. But the government wasn’t issuing permits then so she had to wait till April 2014 when she started driving her very own rickshaw for commercial purposes. The other women did not take it up, they bought the vehicles but let it out to men to drive. Initially her husband was not amenable but ultimately gave in to her desires. Her neighbour, a rickshaw driver trained her daily for ½ an hour. In 3 days she gained enough confidence to strike it out on her own. Her 1st passenger was her daughter whom she dropped to KV IIT, followed by a lady who hailed her from the campus banishing all nervousness.
Today her day begins early as she cooks and packs food for her 2 school going children, a son in class 11 and a daughter in 10th. Dropping them both off, she begins her gruelling day till it’s time to get back home if possible, grab a quick bite and head out again. On an average she works 8-10 hours on the streets of Mumbai and then some more.. cooking, cleaning etc at home. She needs the Sunday to recoup her energy but she’s found she’s able to balance both equally. One look at her impeccably turned out intelligent children gives no idea of the background they come from.

It is her resilience that didn’t allow her to give up the struggle and make a choice to represent women-kind in a totally male-dominated occupation. I’m sure her daughter will grow up with a higher self-value seeing her mother, a valued woman with perfect work-life balance. I come away feeling a sense of pride in these women of India.