Rickshaw Reassurance

With two children to care for, Rekha Hullur and her autorickshaw traverse Gadag’s roads, for lesson and livelihood.
Rekha Hullur
Rekha HullurPhoto | Express

GADAG : Life is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations,” wrote Irish novelist Oliver Goldsmith. Throughout this journey, there will be roadblocks, potholes, and other impediments, trials and tribulations, but there will also be learning – on lessons of survival, grit and determination. The controls of the auto rickshaw, or its rickety build, was never going to intimidate Rekha Hullur. She was quick to get a hang of the three-wheeler, when her auto driver husband passed away, and challenged the roads of Gadag.

Rekha, Gadag’s first female auto driver, swiftly learnt the city’s thoroughfares, and became a regular sight in town at the helm of her rickshaw. A resident of Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, Rekha used to be a housewife, taking care of her son and daughter, while her husband drove his auto rickshaw. However, life wasn’t the perfect fairytale for the young family. Rekha’s daughter was diagnosed with diabetes at a very young age, and the family had to struggle for her treatment, including driving her between hospitals. Meanwhile, Rekha’s husband suffered a fatal cardiac arrest a couple of months ago, which brought forth a greater cloud of financial strife over the family. These experiences coaxed Rekha to look at life differently, inevitably changing it for the sake of her children.

The family, with its three members, had to quickly look for a source of income to put bread on the table. The housewife that she was, there wasn’t much Rekha could do to change things for her children and herself. At the top of her mind was her daughter’s wellbeing, for whom she had to find work and fast. Looking around, her helpless gaze fell upon the auto rickshaw parked in front of her house. It was her husband’s. It then dawned on her, “Why don’t I start driving this auto rickshaw?”

She shared her thoughts with an uncle, who also stays in Gadag. Rekha’s uncle was very supportive of the idea, and encouraged her to learn driving the vehicle. One fine day, Rekha took the auto rickshaw out and began to practise driving it on the empty roads on the outskirts of town. She practised day and night with utmost discipline and dedication, mastering the controls and skills required to drive an auto rickshaw in a matter of 10 days.

Soon enough, Rekha’s uncle took her to the local Road Transport Office (RTO) and enabled her to get a driving licence, so that she could expeditiously take to the road and begin earning.

On her first day as an auto driver in Gadag, Rekha went to the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar auto stand, where the other auto drivers were surprised to see her. A few of them supported her and said they were with her, and she started driving her auto rickshaw with confidence. On the very same day, she went to the Sai Baba temple and to the old bus stand. As expected, some commuters were doubtful if she could really drive the rickshaw, to which Rekha explained, “I am the owner of this auto rickshaw, and I will safely take you to your destination.” Other commuters appreciated her, and said they were pleased to sit in a rickshaw driven by a woman driver.

Meanwhile, some of Rekha’s relatives also warned her that driving an auto rickshaw is not as easy as it looks, since sometimes, she may need to drive to certain places with passengers, which could be dangerous for a woman. Undeterred, however, Rekha replied: “Life has thrown tough challenges at us, but I will face anything that comes in front of me.” Today, Rekha is a familiar sight on Gadag’s roads, and commuters and fellow auto drivers have immense respect for her.

Sagar Bhajantri, a student from Gadag, says, “We were going to the bus stand some weeks ago, but went to the auto rickshaw stand instead and were surprised to see a woman driver. We went near the rickshaw and asked her whether we could hire the vehicle, and she agreed. We sat inside the auto rickshaw with some fear, since female auto drivers are hard to come by. Rekha, however, is a good driver and she drove us very smoothly on even rough roads. She was very calm and patient. She did not demand any extra money either. We paid her the fixed sum and wished her luck.”

An auto driver from Rajiv Gandhi Nagar auto stand says, “We are happy to have a woman auto driver at our stand. Women are now forward in all fields. But still, many are not coming forward in towns like Gadag and other parts of North Karnataka. We should appreciate Rekha’s courage, since she has decided to drive an auto to earn her livelihood after her husband’s death. She is well-versed with the Gadag-Betageri roads and has good knowledge of all localities. This has come as a boon to her life.”

Rekha drives her auto rickshaw, ferrying the people of Gadag from one address to another, earning for her children and garnering respect for herself. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel!

Financial independence

Rekha Hullur, whose daughter suffers from diabetes from a very young age, has been seeking financial help from a host of organisations, so that she could afford the treatment, which requires at least a few thousands of rupees. Rekha says that she took some loans from private finance companies too, which she could slowly repay by earning from her auto rickshaw.

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