Mumbai-based Sneha Kamath runs India’s first car driving training centre exclusively for women. She was honoured by Ministry of Women and Child Development for her efforts. A post-graduate in Sociology; a wife and a mother, Sneha does not just teach women how to drive, but tries to instil in them a sense of confidence so that they can negotiate the mean city roads
There was more than misogyny of daily life that I wanted to address when the idea of starting a car driving training centre for women struck my mind. To be able to drive confidently is liberating in a way, it gives the woman a sense of freedom and empowerment, usually restricted in our patriarchal society.
I had been driving on Mumbai roads for almost 15 years. Before that I was raised in a family which ran a business of kaali-peeli taxis for years. Thus, I was introduced to cars and driving quite early in life. I am a good driver and honed my driving skills on the crowded lanes of Mumbai. I negotiated long jams with élan. But what I could not negotiate were the sexist jokes about women being bad drivers, mostly propagated by men.
It may sound shocking but in a metropolitan city like Mumbai, there were no female trainers in even the most popular car driving training institutes. Most trainers are men who, unfortunately, carry a bias against women as poor drivers. And they are never sensitised enough to train women learners.
In 2012, I decided to quit my job and open a car driving school for women. I had a hard time convincing my family of this decision. I hold a post-graduate degree in Sociology and giving all that up to teach women driving was a big step that seemed irrational to many. But I was adamant.
My venture ‘She Can Drive’ aimed at making driving fun for women rather than a regimental drill. As I started training women, the word spread like wildfire. Encouraged by the response, I realised managing the steering wheel can drive underprivileged women out of their drudgery. I held training sessions with women from Dharavi (the largest slum in Asia) as well. I have trained 750 women belonging to different walks of life. In 2017, the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development felicitated me as a ‘First Lady’ for founding India’s first car driving training institute for women.
Apart from driving and the usual technical skills to handle vehicles, I also instil my students with a sense of confidence so that they can take up driving as a profession too. When women drive on roads, they often come across unwarranted nasty remarks that can get their morale down. I prepare my students to tackle such situations. In my one-hour session, I spend about 15-20 minutes in just motivating them.
These days, I feel it is a must for every woman to know how to drive. What if an emergency comes by? Are we going to wait for the cab or someone else to drive? Why depend on the men of the household?
Currently, I am the only trainer in my school. In the next few years, I plan to get more women trainers. It’s exhausting for me to do it all alone. I start training at eight in the morning and sometimes my sessions continue till midnight.
My venture needs to be financed with an investment of at least Rs 5 crore for hiring more trainers, expanding in other cities and towns and buying a fleet of new cars. Sadly, even after being felicitated by the government, I haven’t been able to get any financial promoters. The government scheme for start-ups also demands a collateral. People have shown interest in funding my project but the amount they want to invest will hardly allow me to buy one vehicle.
I envisage a future where more women are confidently driving on the roads of India; a future where they are not looked down upon; where they are no longer the butt of sexist jokes. I have a long road ahead of me I know, but I am not giving up.