If you are a woman and drive in Hyderabad, I’m sure you would have read the title and rolled your eyes and thought, “Tell me ‘bout it!” Every woman who drives will agree with everything I list here. But before I start, here’s a disclaimer:-
The reason this is focused on a female driver in Hyderabad and not India is because I have firsthand knowledge of the former and not the latter. I’ve never lived/driven in any other city in India. However, from what I hear, it’s more or less the same across India.
Let’s start with why I prefer to drive over taking an auto or walking. You would think that if men stared at a woman, it’s probably because she’s hot. In Hyderabad though the only criterion needed for men to stare at women is, simply being a woman. I’m not all that pretty but if I take one step outside I will be stared at all the time. And that’s uncomfortable as hell. I don’t feel threatened by it, like as though my life is in danger, but it’s still uncomfortable. And it has nothing to do with the attire I wear. This same thing happens whether I wear salwar-kameez, or jeans with a short top, or loose house-pants with a loose oversized t-shirt, or even have oil in my hair! So I don’t prefer walking to my destination even if that’s barely a kilometer away.
And then there’s that little hell called Auto-rickshaw. I mean, yeah it’s a brilliant means of transport but it’s getting costlier by the day and the auto drivers are becoming extortionists. There was a time when the meter started at Rs.6/- and it would cost me around Rs.10/- to travel a little more than a kilometer. Today, the same distance costs me Rs.40/- easily. Not because the meter starts at a higher rate, but because these drivers will demand whatever amount they fancy and refuse to run on meter. I have a problem with that. Do I work really hard instead of using dishonest tactics to make a living just so that these auto drivers can fleece me of my honest earnings?! Hell no.
The other day my friend took an auto to come to my house and narrated a tale that shocked me. When she reached her destination, the meter showed some amount which was in the 200s. She didn’t have the exact change so she gave him three 100 rupees notes and expected him to give back the change that was due to her. But that guy refused. He gave some BS excuse and said he won’t give it back. Upon my friend raising an argument to that, he said, and brace yourselves for this, “Suck my cock to get it back”, and drove away. She was so stunned that by the time she recovered from that, he had driven away and it was too late for her to do anything about it. I was shocked when she told me this. I think my jaw dropped open and was frozen like that for a good two minutes. That’s why I don’t like taking autos.
Because of all this, I prefer driving. But even that has its pitfalls. Here I am driving with my non-tinted windows (thanks you government assholes) rolled up half way with music playing in the stereo and causing absolutely no nuisance to anybody. And then I will turn to my head to notice guys on a two-wheeler BLATANTLY staring at me. Most often there are no lewd words thrown at me, but still, the staring! Sometimes if I turn my head towards them, they have the decency to turn away. But most often than not, they will continue staring at me. Earlier I had a little more patience so I would just ignore it. But in recent times I’ve given up playing nice. Why should I play nice? If anything, it should be these guys who face the music and feel uncomfortable/bad. One day, my friend and I were stuck in a traffic jam. I was driving and she was in the passenger seat. On her side of the road, there was an auto right next to us. While my friend and I were lost in conversation, I started feeling someone’s lecherous eyes on us. So I turned and saw that it was the auto driver next to us. The stubbornly bold girl that I am, I asked him what he was looking at. The auto driver having absolutely no shame responded “What?” Then I continued arguing telling him I’m going to reach that signal (the signal was at the end of the traffic jam) and report him to the police for sexual harassment. Well, that didn’t work because it didn’t unnerve him one bit. He shamelessly continued staring before, through and after this conversation until the traffic jam cleared and we drove away.
As annoying as it is to be stared at by disgusting men on the road, it is still better than some of the other lunatics we come across as women drivers. While the staring is irritating, it’s harmless to a large extent. What really freaks you out is when some assholes on motorbikes start following you and lech at you calling you names and making gestures. A tale comes to mind that happened a month ago.
I was taking my regular route to get home which includes a few by-lanes through a residential area. When I got onto one of the roads, I saw that there were four boys on two bikes next to each other. They were parked in the middle of the road and talking. I honked a few times but they didn’t bother to move so I manoeuvred around them (by taking the wrong side of the road) and drove away. While driving past them I mouthed a curse word (My windows were rolled up). THAT, they happened to notice. So as I was driving, I noticed one of those bikes following me. To avoid them I made a sudden right to take the lane closest to the main road. (At least on the main road there’s more crowd and also cops). However I couldn’t make it to the main road in time because these guys overtook my car and stopped their bike right in front of my car, which was in the middle of the road. Then one the guys who clearly thought he was the leader of the local mafia came to my side of the car. I made sure my car was locked from inside and then rolled down the window just enough to be able to talk to him. The first thing he said to me was “Gaali kisko dere?” (Translation: Who did you curse at?) If you’re a westerner reading this you might think that that’s a genuine question. But let me clarify that it’s not. It’s a rhetorical question laced with the insinuation that there will be consequences for calling him unsavory names. To that I asked him how he knew I was cursing. My windows were rolled up. I could have been singing, or talking on the phone, or talking to myself; so how was he so sure that I cursed at him? Of course, this whole thing wasn’t about my cursing at him; it was about causing nuisance and having “fun” which they thought would be easy since I am a girl. Let’s all be honest here- they wouldn’t have done this if it were a man in my place. Shoot yourself if you disagree with that. Anyway, then there was some physical struggle when he attempted to put his hand into my car through the small opening in the window and reached for my keys in the ignition. Don’t worry, I scratched him good. But that action of his blew my fuse. At that point I started yelling at him and threatened to drive over his bike with my car. To that, the brainless pig that was, said “Do that and see, I’ll put a case on you”. And my immediate response to that was “File a case and show; I’ll get you arrested for sexual harassment.” (All of this conversation is happening in Hyderabadi Hindi.) That was finally the thing that jolted him. At that point he looked around him and noticed the many people who were standing and watching this (mind you, no one did anything). And I pointed out that his following me, stopping and reaching in for my keys, and yelling at me, has been noticed by all these people so if I do report him, there would be no getting out for him. Then he quietly walked away like a wet dog with his tail between his legs.
This is not a once-in-a-while thing. Things like these happen more often than it should and mostly to women because by some twisted logic men think that women are weak hence they can be pushed around. I remember the time when my American friends visited Hyderabad. They experienced one of these road horrors where a guy in a two-wheeler travelling next to their auto made a lewd gesture and pointed at his crotch as an invitation. I could not have apologized enough for that. I was as ashamed as I would be if I did anything half as shameful.
And then you have men who believe that women are bad drivers and everything is women’s fault. Even when these men are coming at you on the wrong side of the road and you throw them a WTF expression, they will indignantly throw the ‘What?’ expression back at you. As it is, every Hyderabadi thinks highly about their driving skills, including me, and that the road was built only because of his/her tax money, hence they have the right to use it any way they want. On top of that, this gender based harassment.
I think that women also are partly responsible for this treatment having become an everyday, unquestionable behavior. If I ask my father what I should do in these situations, he says don’t get too involved in these things because it may cause more trouble. He says I should just apologize even if it’s not my fault and walk away. I understand where that comes from; he is thinking practically as a father should, keeping my safety as his main concern. My mother too will say not to get involved in these matters. But I say that if I let that happen without these people facing any consequences, I will only be feeding their narcissism and confidence in doing these nasty things which will possibly snowball into bigger sexual crimes. Yes, it’s important that I be smart about this and not put myself in harm’s way but I have to do something. And so should every other woman who get’s stared at, leched at, harassed, stalked, etc.
That’s my tale of being a female driver in Hyderabad. I know that many other women have such tales and I would love to hear how they deal with these situations.
Until next time, be safe!