Sanjeev K. Sharma
About four decades back society in our city was such that a lady driving a car or other vehicle used to attract public attention which followed whispers and murmurs among all nearby.
There were also reactions in society towards a girl wearing pants or having hairs cut though a few girls used to ride bicycle while many few were bold enough to talk about their rights.
However, much water has now moved down the stream and woman of the present day has got her place in the society with her presence almost seen in every field and she is even giving stiff competition to the man at many places and many times she shows better performance than him.
These days ‘Pooja Devi—the bus driver’ has become a talk of the town after the Dalit lady came to media limelight and almost became a celebrity when she drove a bus between Jammu-Kathua on national highway.
An interaction with Pooja brought to fore her extraordinary display of courage to break the shackles of rural orthodoxy to which she belongs.
She revealed how she jumped into the driving profession to give some soothe to her poverty stricken family comprising of a daughter, two sons and a husband.
Though the journey to become a bus driver was not a cake walk for Pooja as there were many elements in the society talking bad of her and demoralized her in different ways, yet, she is a contented lady now as the same society is felicitating her for her extraordinary achievement albeit she claims that she finds nothing extraordinary in this.
“It is hardly a month from now when I started my new job as a bus driver after receiving heavy vehicle driving license from the transport department while earlier I used to train people in driving skills at a driving institute on Akhnoor road for two years,” she said in an interview with the Excelsior.
She also said that before joining the driving institute she was a taxi driver with her own vehicle over which she moved passengers to places as far as Uttarakhand but finding her earnings too meager she joined the driving institute where too her earnings were not satisfactorily and she then applied for a heavy vehicle driving license to get a better job which she presently got as a bus driver.
Before joining driving profession Pooja worked in a company where she earned Rs. 70,000 with which she purchased a second-hand car and with this started her new inning of life as a taxi driver.
Pooja hails from Sandher—a hamlet on Bani-Basoli road and Simran is her daughter who studies in class X and is eldest of her three children while her son Neeraj is in 7th standard and her youngest son Kartik is in class 4th. Her husband works as a labourer and her in-laws live in Sandhar while Pooja along with her husband and children have shifted to Basholi town. Her parents are in Jandrali, a village in Basholi area where her brother works as a farmer and they are four sisters of which Pooja is youngest.
She informed that her daughter wishes to be a teacher while her son Kartik aims to be a cop.
When asked about her husband’s reaction on her becoming a driver she said, initially he objected as people taunted him but she counseled him saying that none will come to help them in poverty and only they have to cross this orthodoxy barrier to improve their lives.
She claimed that none of the benefits available to the scheduled caste people were given to them and they even did not got any money for making toilets as per a Government scheme though they spent money in making documents for that.
Being the only driver in her family, Pooja says being less qualified academically she found only the driving profession where she could fit herself and now she is well versed in the profession and has even driven 16 wheeled heavy vehicle between Jammu and Pathankot.
However, she expressed dismay as even by doing all this hard work, her income remained insufficient to fulfill the desires of her children as she is still unable to get a bicycle for her son.
Pooja said that she wishes to have some government job involving driving tasks or a good private job of similar nature which may fetch her good earnings to help her family live in a better way.
“Though after finding me driving a bus many people felt good and encouraged me yet at home I am not contended due to my poor economic status,” she said.
With pride she said when it comes to performance, women are not behind men in any field and she claimed that a lady is rarely encouraged by the society in doing new things and her caliber is mostly underestimated.
Pooja also said that may be other ladies too wish to drive heavy vehicles like her but they might be feeling hesitation as the society does not cooperate and talks bad of such ladies.
Sanjeev K. Sharma