If you ever get to ride in a rickshaw in Peshawar and the driver turns out to be a woman in men’s attire, then you are travelling in the rickshaw of Fazilat Begum, the only female rickshaw driver in Peshawar.
In a male-dominant society where certain professions including driving a local bus, taxi or rickshaw is considered against culture and norms, this 25-year-old woman, Fazilat is smacking the patriarchy.
Instead of reacting or reaching out to hatred, she drives her auto-rickshaw challenging the self-constructed male dominance, imperceptibly every day.
But it is not that words or actions of the society do not hurt, “I feel a lot of pain when I hear harsh and indecent comments about myself,” she says. Despite such hardships, Fazilat drives rickshaw for the last for years.
Having no support from father and three brothers, Fazilat left home seven years ago and started to work as a labourer. Fazilat Begum’s mother also expressed desire to live with her instead of three sons since Fazilat is taking care of her mother.
In addition to driving rickshaw, Fazilat has also worked at a beauty salon along with getting trained as automobile mechanic in a car workshop.
But while working hard she was not getting the desired results therefore, four years back she decided to opt for as a rickshaw driver since then her father and brothers did not even contact her. With the assistance from her cousin named Hidayat, she learned to drive a rickshaw and started to drive in Peshawar to earn her bread and butter.
Initially, she used to take a rickshaw on rent at Rs300 per day from the rickshaw owner. Having a mother to take care of and a younger sister in a rented house, Fazilat had to work hard to make the ends meet. Along with the hardships, she had to fight with the mindset of the society which prevents women to go out of home to earn. Fighting all odds finally she was able to buy her own rickshaw last year.
According to Fazilat, “When I did not have anything of my own and was extremely financially low, my relatives broke off contact with me because I was helpless.” She said the day she bought her own rickshaw, her relatives started coming back thinking she has a lot of money.
Fazilat Begum drives rickshaw from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm dealing with all kinds of mind sets in the society especially the ones with obscene mindset who pass comments on her clothing and when she leaves the house.
Regardless of such an attitude of the society, she is concerned about her wages and earning and not about what the people think or talk about her. There are also people who appreciate her efforts as a female driver and feel satisfied letting their females travel with her to different places.
Sometimes the earning is less and at times more. Since her mother resides with her, so she pays full attention to her treatment and care. “When I get back home at night, I do house chores like cleaning, cooking,” she said.
“Everyone has their dignity and respect, I know how to respect and treat people. And I am waiting for the day when people will treat working women with respect and dignity”, Fazilat hopes. Her mother fully supports her endeavour, the reason she is crossing all the hurdles created in her path.
Fazilat wants her father and brothers to at least support her in what she is doing so that she could also live a life of dignity like many other women in our society.
Fazilat thinks lack of education is a big draw back for her but still she tackles situations with her sharp intelligence. She thinks for a woman to go out in a city like Peshawar and then to drive a rickshaw is in itself an act of great courage which should be considered as a matter of honour and not of shame. She is also glad that is she is the only female rickshaw driver in Peshawar, proudly setting an example for many other women.
Instead of begging or living in poverty, Fazilat opted for a difficult profession taking pride in what she is doing.
The brave female rickshaw driver Fazilat wishes to start her own business if the government supports her so that she could have better finances since it is difficult to maintain her current profession for too long owing to cost of maintaining the auto in good condition.