She decided to trade her saree for an auto driver's uniform for her son. Dressed in a crisp khaki uniform, her hair neatly tied in a bun and a big red bindi, Ratna R starts her day at 3 am. This 30-year-old woman started driving auto seven years ago to drop her son to school, who has multiple health problems including a disability that prevents him from walking. Married at 12, Ratna lost her husband to an accident the very next year. Her son was only a few months old at that time. Instead of succumbing to the insecurity of being a teen-aged single mother, Ratna took control of her life. “Many proposed to me but they wanted me to abandon my child. So I politely declined their offer,” she said.
While she had a menial job at a garment factory her son would be alone at home and there was nobody to take him to school. That is when she decided to buy an auto. At the age of 24, Ratna was on the roads ferrying people.
“God took away a lot things at various stages of my life but replaced it with courage and patience to face every obstacle,” said Ratna. In addition to walking disability, her son also suffered from partial blindness. Some years ago, she got her son's eyes operated at one of the free eye camps in the city. After the operation she was very happy but fate had different plans.
When she admitted her son to school she had thought his life would change but life had yet another shock in store for her. “My son could not walk and was a little overweight, so children at school and the ayas would tease him. This had an adverse effect on him and he started having epilepsy fits,” she recalls. After she learnt about the problems her son was going through every single day, she got him out of the school and ever since he has been at home.
“What is the point of such education? It took a toll on my son's mental well-being,” she said.
Ratna says that in her seven year career not even a single man has had the guts to misbehave with her. She has adopted an aggressive demeanour to ward off men who might misbehave. “I have chosen not to marry again as I feel a woman can be independent without the support of a man in her life,” she said.
The police don't discriminate when it comes to harassing auto drivers. “They harass me sometimes and ask for money. I try to reason with them that I have to take this money back home to ensure two square meals a day for my son,” she said.