How would you react if you see a woman pulling a rickshaw on Indian streets? Surprised? Shocked? Disapproving, even?
Irrespective of how you feel, there is one woman who is breaking all stereotypes on what women can or cannot do. If you happen to find yourself on the streets of Chittagong, you might come across Bangladesh’s only known woman rickshaw puller, Mosammat Jasmine, popularly known as “Crazy Auntie”.
The concept of a woman doing a job of this nature hasn’t been heard of in Muslim-majority Bangladesh which is one of Asia’s most conservative societies.
You’d probably be surprised to know that she has been doing this for five years now.
The mother of three told The Hindu,
I do it to make sure my sons don’t go hungry and they get a decent education at a good school. Allah has given me a pair of hands and legs to work with. I don’t beg — instead I earn a living by using his gifts.
When the 45-year-old’s husband ran away with another woman and she was left to take care of her children, she tried her hand at a couple of jobs but none of those jobs suited her.
A maid’s job is good if you only have to worry about yourself but not if you’ve got children. And the factory work is really back-breaking and the pay is really poor.
Whilst she was struggling to survive and also pay for her kids’ education, she decided to rent out the neighbour’s rickshaw who was happy to help. She did face criticism and found it taxing to find customers, leave alone the physical challenges.
Initially, many simply refused to get on board and some taunted me, saying I was doing a man’s job. Others told me that Islam does not permit a woman to roam around like this while there were some who refused to pay me the same fare as a male driver. I stuck to my guns as who else pays my bills, who is else is going to cover the cost of educating my sons?
She earns 600 taka (Rs 500) a day for an eight hour shift on the rickshaw, on an average, part of which she pays as rent to the rickshaw owner.
In the five years of doing this day after day, she has gained a lot of respect in the community.