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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
Taxi driver: Delhi
The BBC is looking at the lives of five taxi drivers - who know the streets of the world's capitals better than anyone - and talking to them about their work, their city, and the problems they face.

Here, the BBC's Geeta Pandey jumps in the back of Sunita Choudhary's auto-rickshaw on the streets of the Indian capital, Delhi.

Sunita Choudhary with her rickshaw
Sunita Choudhary is the only female auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi
It is an unbearably hot day. The summer sun beats overhead.

A young woman of 25, Sunita Choudhary, struggles to kick-start her auto-rickshaw.

The engine finally splutters to life after several attempts. Sunita is apologetic.

"It's not my rickshaw," she says. "I have to hire it, I pay 300 rupees ($6.50) a day."

Sunita - who has been driving for a year and a half now is the only woman auto-rickshaw driver on Delhi's roads.

The rarity of this meant that she had a lot of trouble getting a licence to drive a commercial vehicle.

"The officials said we don't give them to women, so how can we give it to you?" she says.

"I had to fight for two years before I could get my licence."

'Too many accidents'

She explained that she chose to become an auto-rickshaw driver partly because of the attitude of other drivers towards those involved in the numerous vehicle crashes around the city.

"There are too many accidents in Delhi," she says.

"And if I see a victim on the road, I want to take them to the hospital.

Sunita Choudhary with her rickshaw
Although I'm a woman, I'm far braver than most men
Sunita Choudhary
"For this I used to get into fights with other auto-rickshaw drivers because they didn't want to get involved. So I thought if I drove my own auto, it would make things easier for me."

Sunita shows me a sheaf of papers - proof from hospital records of the accident victims she has helped.

She laughs when she recalls the reaction of other auto-rickshaw drivers when she hit the road.

"They were really scared," she says.

"They said, 'what will happen to us if women start driving? No one will hire us then'."

But her job is not easy, and driving in Delhi's chaotic traffic is not fun.

But she remains unfazed, weaving through traffic, totally confident of her driving skills.

Sunita says she has no preference when it comes to the gender of the passengers, but admits that women passengers do have a preference for her.

"Women tell me they feel a lot safer with me because I don't drink alcohol or smoke," she explains.

"They say they feel scared with male drivers because sometimes they are drunk and drive rashly. They say they feel safe with me even late at night."

Political future?

Although cases of attacks against women are reported daily in the newspapers here, Sunita is not afraid of working night shifts.

"Anyway I look like a boy," she laughs.

Rickshaw drivers in Delhi
The rickshaw drivers of Delhi have a hardline attitude to accidents
"I wear jeans and a shirt and keep my hair short. And at night, passengers call out to me and say, 'hey brother, drop me at so and so place'. It works to my advantage to look like a boy.

"And although I'm a woman, I'm far braver than most men."

And she is now testing that bravery to its fullest, taking a leap into politics.

She contested the assembly elections in Delhi last year and lost. She was nominated by the Panther's Party for the recent parliamentary elections, but was late in filing her nomination.

Despite all these setbacks, she says she'll try again.

"Politicians have clout. If I'm elected, police will respect me," she says.

"If they detain someone wrongly, I can use my influence over them. They'll have to obey me. And I'll work for people's benefit."


WATCH AND LISTEN
Rickshaw driver Sunita Choudhary
"There are too many accidents in Delhi"




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