I had heard so many stories about female drivers facing harassment on the roads. But I only understood how bad the situation was when I started driving myself. With my brother abroad and my father too old to drive, I had to take the steering wheel. From getting groceries to taking the car to the workshop, it was all on me.
If I start counting the number of times somebody jeered at me while I was driving, followed me to the destination, honked at me needlessly, or tried to pass by me just to freak me out, I would most likely lose the count. However, with time I have learned to be rock-solid in the face of these issues.
The real test of my resolve came when once my sister and I were travelling on a road that was under construction. We were taking a diversion where only one car could pass at a time. There was a Prado behind us and the driver just wouldn’t stop honking. I could see from the rear view mirror that he was looking directly at me, annoyed, shaking his head, as if being stuck there was my personal choice.
With nothing else to do, I continued to ignore his honking, meanwhile trying to manoeuvre my way out. It was still harmless until the driver, perhaps imagining himself in a real-life adaptation of Fast & Furious, overtakes my car from right side, hits my car in the midst of traffic jam, and gets stuck in front of me. To gauge the damage, I pulled over, got out of the car and saw that my side-mirror and headlights of that side had broken as a result of the collision. Knowing full well what he’d done, the driver didn’t bother stopping or acknowledging the incident.
His entitlement and nonchalance infuriated me even more, and I decided not to let it go just like that. I followed the driver until the next signal and indicated him to pull over. After ignoring my signals for a while when he realized I was not budging or giving up, he finally stopped over. I get out of my car and knock on the driver’s window. He rolls down the window. There is another man in the passenger seat, who is well dressed and seemed like owner of the car. Both of them still have that same nonchalant disposition. I asked him if he realized what he’d done, to which he just nodded and tells me in response, “O baaji ghalti say hogaya (it happened by mistake)”.
Upset by their arrogant tone, I sternly asked to be compensated for my damage. This time the guy in the passenger seat speaks and says the most ridiculous thing, “He’s just a poor driver, how can he compensate for your loss. And my brand new car must also have gotten a few scratches, so we’re even”. I stared at him in disbelief for a while and told him it was HIM that I expected to pay for the compensation and that my damage was much more than the “scratches” his car might have gotten. He offers me a meagre amount, which I obviously refused. Then, in a tone that sounded more like a threat, he told me that he’d take the matter to a traffic warden, who’d most likely get the police involved, and that I – being a woman – will be compelled to go through the hassle of it all.
I was both shocked and amused by his implication that I would back off for fear of being dragged to the police, even though I was on the right. His mouth fell open in shock as I told him I was ready to go to the police and immediately signalled to the traffic warden standing nearby. The warden eventually decided in my favour, and that day I felt like I had stood up not only for myself but also for all those women who are underestimated as drivers and as people too.