About "Women Drivers" and their rising numbers in Mumbai

Bob Rupani  | Updated: August 29, 2020, 01:37 PM IST

A recent report shows that at present, close to 30 lakh women have valid driving licenses in Mumbai! This means of the total 88 lakh driving licenses issued in India's business capital, close to 35 percent are held by women drivers. Further, of the daily learner license applications received by the Mumbai RTO, about 40 per cent are from girls aged 18 to 20years. This is very heartening data that shows Mumbai has a substantial number of lady drivers and their percentage is rising.

Given this, I am very keen to know how many women drive in male dominated patriarchal states and societies like UP, Bihar, MP, Haryana, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, etc.? Also in places like Delhi and Noida, which are generally considered, not so safe for women. I would presume the number of women getting behind the wheel here, is substantially lower. Maybe even half of what you have in Mumbai, or lower.

Sadly, there is also a tendency amongst many Indian men to mock lady drivers and make fun of them. But my experience has been quite different. I don't know how many are aware but we in India have set a Guinness World Record for 'Most female participants in a motor sport event'. Yes, the "Women's Drive" event has had over a 1000 women participating in this TSD (Time, Speed, Distant) format event. If I am not mistaken, the first "Woman's Rally" in India was held in 1987. It was organized by Sportscraft and for the first 3 or 4 years, I participated as a navigator. Yes, the driving in these events was done exclusively by women, but they could have male navigators. And since I was quite active in motorsport those days, many women approached me to be their navigator. Honestly, in the beginning I was hesitant, because most of my motorsport experience was behind the wheel, and navigating for a woman sounded daunting. But after a bit of persuasion from some friends and also a few ladies who wanted me in the passenger seat, I not only decided to navigate, but also helped in the preparation of the car. I arranged recces and familiarization runs and trained my lady driver on the finer aspects of TSD rallying, driving, etc.

Sohini Dutt, Associate Executive Producer CNBC TV18

The ladies I navigated for came from varied backgrounds. Preeti, a housewife, was married to my dear friend Paresh, and I did a couple of events with her. The other was my neighbour Neelam, a college student then. I also navigated for another Gujarati lady Meena, who helped her husband in his jewelry business. She was much older than me, but the most aggressive driver of the three. Navigating for them was actually heaps of fun and also taught me a lot. I realized that because they were so keen to prove their skills behind the wheel, they tried that much harder and were eager to learn and improve. Couple of instances I must share. There was this tricky and long hill-climb up to Mahabaleshwar, which we started just as the sun was setting. Having anticipated this prior to the event, I had fitted my own set of extra Cibie driving lights on Neelam's Maruti 800. Before tackling the climb, I told her that complete concentration and following the cornering lines I had taught her, was crucial. Neelam started slowly, but once she got used to the darkness and seeing the twisty entries and exits in the lights, she settled into a smooth rhythm and got into the flow of taking the turns correctly. We made very good time and when the results for the day were declared at the overnight halt in Maharashtra's most popular hill-station, we were 3rd overall. Neelam, a rookie, had managed to finish well ahead of several seasoned women rallyists.

On another event it was raining and the narrow road to Alibaug was quite slippery. I asked Preeti to avoid any sudden acceleration or deceleration, as this could break traction. Though she kept the pedal to the metal, she was also very alert and drove brilliantly. With Meena, the only problem I had was in controlling her aggression. She is amongst the best lady driver's I have sat with, but she was always overeager to overtake and push others out of her way.

I am also delighted to say that I have had the opportunity of working with a few lady auto journalists like our very own Sohini Dutt, Associate Executive Producer CNBC TV18. In fact I have closely interacted with and observed a couple of other lady auto journalists, and in my view they are very good at their work and do a far better job of reviewing vehicles, than many of their male counterparts.

The writer with Michele Mouton, the world's greatest women rally driver

Of course my favourite lady driver in the whole world has to be Michele Mouton, who finished runner-up in the WRC (World Rally Championship) in 1982, driving a Groub B Audi Quattro. She finished a close second overall to the legendary German ace and 1982 World Rally Champion, Walter Röhrl. Michele Mouton was in Mumbai a few years back and I can proudly say I had the pleasure of having a meal with her. Now that is one lady, I hope I get to ride shotgun with someday.


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