Meet Tiruchy women trio riding through odds in glowing yellow

Dark hours, social prejudice, financial woes... come what may, these three women from Tiruchy drive them out with confidence on their three-wheelers

Published: 27th March 2022 05:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th March 2022 05:58 AM   |  A+A-

S Shenbagavalli, M Uma Maheswari and S Punithavalli stand as bold examples of women empowerment | m k ashok kumar

Express News Service

TIRUCHY: For many, an autorickshaw ride is usually a hassle-free way to reach work, home and other destinations as quickly as possible. For three women in Tiruchy, the three-wheeler is what drives them out of their financial woes. The three women do not fall prey to the fear of the dark nor the social prejudice they generally face without an exception.

The single-mother Punithavalli, who struggles to raise her 13-year old son without the support of her husband and parents, finds the three-wheeler a blessing. Living away from her husband after a dispute, her journey began four years ago, before the global pandemic ravaged several livelihoods.When her male counterparts refuse to entertain long-distance rides, the Class 9 dropout fearlessly takes up trips to far-flung cities like Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Musiri and Namakkal without any hesitation.

The auto is almost like her home during these long rides. On the return, she parks at petrol bunks to sleep overnight. From her average earning of Rs 1,800 that fetches her for toiling for nearly 13 hours, she squirrels for her son’s education. “I never miss a ride,” beams Punithavalli.

It’s a similar story for a few others too. About 15 years ago, a 23-year-old Uma Maheshwari got her license for driving the three-wheeler. Her husband, a construction worker from Kerala, could barely make both ends meet. Five years ago, Uma stepped in, with a rented vehicle.

Like any new venture, she struggled to even pay the rent for the autorickshaw. Now, her tireless efforts have made her daughter’s wedding day grand. Shedding her early fears of navigating through an unknown city, Uma today wheels 150 km a day as heartening commuters kept her running. “I would like to drive cars, lorries and buses too in the future,” she says.

At 38, she is the proud owner of an autorickshaw that balances her family finances.Another such warrior in the city from Edamalaipatti Pudur, Shenbagavalli earns up to Rs 2,000 a day. She has already paid off her debt in just three years.

Her goal was to become a car driver. Eight years back, she even got her driver’s license. But, Tamil Nadu’s ‘khaali peeli’ came to her rescue. Shenbagavalli, the pole that stood supportive when her husband Senthil Kumar, a painter, turned a victim of Covid-19. When all her nears and dears cast down her endeavours, Senthil had backed her up.

“I start my daily duty at 8.30 am and finish it by 12 pm. But if I come across any elderly people and women standing alone on the road at night, I offer them a free ride home,” Shenbagavalli says.Her next destination is to set up a driving school for women exclusively at affordable prices and become a driving force for everyone aiming to progress.

Punithavalli, Uma and Shenbagavalli have paved the way for many others in the male-dominated world of autorickshaw driving. As bold examples of women empowerment from Tiruchy, the trio blazes ahead.


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