Gulesh Chauhan’s husband had passed away 15 years earlier, and she was the sole breadwinner, supporting her son and an ailing mother. Still, the chatty 42-year-old from Delhi never thought she would be an Uber driver one day. “I was running my own tiffin service. But one day, I had a serious accident and needed four months’ rest,” she said. Gulesh began thinking about how to earn a living.

Since she knew how to drive, Gulesh thought she would become a driver. But despite putting out word, she got no response. “That’s when my son suggested I try Ola or Uber. When he told me they were taxi services, I broke down. Was I on such hard days that I had to drive a taxi? But my mother and son encouraged me, saying it didn’t matter whether I drove a car or flew an aeroplane, as long as I was able to look after myself.”

She got in touch with a person who had decided to launch his own fleet of Uber cars and was looking for lady drivers. With encouragement from the owner, she mustered the confidence to become a driver in a city she wasn’t familiar with.

As fortune would have it, she found two passengers who were so impressed after reading an interview featuring her that they sponsored the down-payment on the Wagon R she now proudly owns. She has been with Uber for more than two years, and has one of the highest ratings in the Delhi-NCR.

Growing breed

Like Gulesh, other women across the country have taken to driving for Ola and Uber. Both ride-hailing apps have a sizeable number of female driver-partners. Ola says it has “hundreds” of them, and that the number rises by 40 per cent every quarter.

Noor Jahan, a 35-year-old Ola auto driver-partner from Bengaluru, faced opposition from her family when she said she wanted to learn driving. “Most of my friends were male and all of them knew how to drive. Naturally, I, too, was interested. But my family wasn’t really supportive,” says Noor.

Fortunately, her husband taught her to drive. Today, she not only knows how to drive a car and auto, but also tempos and two-wheelers. In fact, the mother of four is so passionate about driving that she has coached 150 women in her neighbourhood. “I want to encourage more women to come out of the shadows, stand on their own feet and earn for themselves. This coaching is a very small thing, but I have a name in the locality. I call it Noor Jahan Driving School.” Noor wants to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as a woman who drives all kinds of vehicles.

Night time, right time

Forty-two-year-old Mehjabeen Noor Mohammad Sheikh in Mumbai has been driving her i10 with Ola since 2017. After having overseen garment handwork and running a tiffin service, she turned to driving to support her family. “I used to work in another company, but when I saw that people driving Ola were earning well, I thought I should join too.”

Mehjabeen, however, doesn’t have the usual 9-5 job. She takes care of her household during the day and drives her car at night, sleeping for around two to four hours a day. “If I get sleepy at night, I lock my car and get some sleep for around an hour. We have a mindset that something bad will happen if we drive at night. But it’s not like that at all. I have never had a client talk to me in a manner that made me uncomfortable. It’s quite peaceful as the roads are totally empty and I can drop off clients quickly,” she explains.