Painting Chennai Pink

Soon Chennai will see pink-coloured autorickshaws driven by women, thanks to the Rotarians of Rotary District 3232. “It became my dream project after I saw a similar programme during my visit to Japan last year. I want to see women in the driver’s seat in the literal sense. They must become financially independent and only then their entire family will grow with them,” said DG G Chandramohan at an event held recently in Chennai. The district plans to donate ‘pink autos’ to 100 underprivileged women and train 200 women to drive autos.

ADGP M Ravi gives driving licence and badge to a beneficiary in the presence of DG G Chandramohan (centre) and his wife Manjula (third from L), Project Chair Shanthi Selvam and District Secretary Ganapathy Suresh.
ADGP M Ravi gives driving licence and badge to a beneficiary in the presence of DG G Chandramohan (centre) and his wife Manjula (third from L), Project Chair Shanthi Selvam and District Secretary Ganapathy Suresh.

Rotary clubs of the district have pitched in to support the programme with several Rotarians sponsoring autorickshaws for women. Nina Reddy, Managing Director, Hotel Savera, donated autos to two beneficiaries from her company’s CSR funds; so did PDG Raja Seenivasan and Manjula, wife of DG Chandramohan. Anees Begum, President of RC Chennai Sunrise, sponsored three autorickshaws, while Ampa Palaniappan of Ampa Sky Walk mall, presented a cheque for ₹1 lakh, among others.

Women must become financially independent and only then their entire family will grow with them.

Project Chair Shanthi Selvam said that when the work for the project began in the first week of July, a team visited five slums in various localities of the city to identify needy women who could benefit from the project. “We double-checked their socio-economic status before selecting them for training and then enrolled them in a driving school for a fortnight.”

These women were given badges, ID cards and licence at this event and the hall was charged with their excitement and confidence. “It’s a lifelong skill and we hope that more women benefit from this endeavour,” said Shanthi.

Women auto drivers all excited to receive their licence and badge.
Women auto drivers all excited to receive their licence and badge.

Mahalakshmi (42) from the city’s suburb is one such beneficiary. After years of juggling with different kinds of menial jobs for livelihood, she got an auto on rent three years ago. Being the sole breadwinner, it wasn’t easy for her to manage household expenses and pay her daughter’s school fees.

“I was one of the first few women autorickshaw drivers in the city. Women and girls have often told me that they felt safe in my auto. They clicked pictures and appreciated me for my dedication and confidence. On the flip side, the amount I earned from the rides was spent on monthly rent and petrol. I hardly had any savings for my daughter’s education. A Rotary member who took a ride in my auto heard my story and promised to help. I’m happy that I will ride my own auto without having to pay rent,” smiled Mahalakshmi, sporting the ubiquitous brand-new brown coat, the autodriver’s uniform, which was provided as part of  the project.

You can frame an award to be given to women auto drivers who follow traffic rules and road discipline.

Shanthi said the women drivers can earn a minimum ₹1,500 a day, and easily save ₹1,000, after meeting vital expenses such as fuel.

ADGP M Ravi, the chief guest, commended the Rotarians for the initiative and said that it would contribute to women’s safety on roads. He urged the 200 women to become Mahila Police Volunteers and act as a bridge between police and public to help fight crimes against women. To the Rotarians, he said, “You can frame an award to be given to women auto drivers who follow traffic rules and road discipline. They will set an example for the male counterparts.”

The pink autos are fitted with GPS and electronic metres and sports a Rotary wheel at the rear.

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.