On Auto Mode

On Auto Mode

Thirty-five year old Mohana is a COVID warrior. She is one of the women auto drivers in Chennai who volunteered to distribute food packets to some of the poorest families between Guindy and Marina beach. “Each day we distributed 200-300 food packets and there I saw people and life. It had completely transformed me. Walk with me, I will show you what poverty is.”

She became an auto driver after she heard of the initiative M-Auto from a friend of hers. When she decided to join and apply for a badge, she had to face the men drivers who tried to discourage and dissuade her by infusing fear. “It was diabolical. I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend what was happening around me and so I caved in. But now I am more sure of myself and I am making the most of it.”

“People are skeptical sometimes when a woman driver approaches them. But after a while, they even want me to be the auto driver for their kids. Such is the trust. Being an auto-driver has helped me cross many hurdles. I can experience life very differently.”

Mohana is one of the few women auto rickshaw drivers who is part of the transforming initiative through M-Auto (My auto My pride) across the city. After the rise of COVID-19, M-Auto approached drivers to help transport relief material. She along with two others volunteered. She continues despite the rising COVID cases in the city.

From distribution she has moved on to other support ventures such as ‘M-auto for aged’, ‘M-auto for the disabled’, and ‘M-auto for pregnant women’ — special ride booking through apps. “I really appreciated it when the company began ‘M-auto for Pregnant Mothers’. The ride for pregnant women was free and we also ensured that they returned home after delivery,” shares Mohana.

Mohana says she is doing all this because she has a lot of debts that she needs to clear. “I have my priorities set. It is also because all my needs are met. Just like the support that came to us through Bharathi’s Dream Women Auto Drivers Association through BLESS, Oxfam India, and Barclays to people like us. This has made me a staunch believer of the fact that, ’when you care, you are cared for’”.

As part of the response, Oxfam India has been reaching out to some of the most marginalised communities across 16 states. And with ample support from its donors it has been distributing cooked food, dry ration, hygiene and safety kits, and distributing cash to the poorest households.

Barclays is one of them. With Barclays support, Oxfam India has reached out to 11550 people in five states — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. They include people with disabilities, women-led households, waste pickers, domestic workers, transgenders, tea garden workers, migrant and informal sector workers, riot-affected families, daily wagers, and street vendors.

In Chennai alone, we  have reached out to 1550 households with food and hygiene kit which included 20 kgs of Rice, 3 kgs of pulses, 10 kgs of flour, a packet of haldi and chili powder each, a litre of refined oil, a kg of salt, sugar and soy bean. The kit also includes five units of masks, and six units of bathing soap, washing soap and sanitary napkins each.

“I am thankful to the organisations for the ration and safety kit we have received. This will keep me going even further,” thanks Mohana.

 

(The author is from our partner NGO BLESS in Chennai)

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