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A Determined Drive Toward a Life of Dreams — Lalitha’s Story

As Lalitha found her passion in driving, she could hardly imagine that a few years later she would be making her way to Europe as a heavy commercial vehicle driver, paving a new life both for herself and her family.

Learn how Lalitha fought every obstacle that societal expectations laid on her path to progress from obscurity to the limelight.

In the backdrop of the chaos of Indian streets, with loud traffic and incessant car horns, sits Lalitha. Her demeanor is in stark contrast to her surroundings. She is poised, calm, centered and stands out as a beacon of hope for every woman in her neighborhood. 

A resolute woman, Lalitha’s name is echoed and whispered with respect within her community. From a life of obscurity to becoming the only female driver in the area, Lalitha is a shining example of the rewards of pursuing dreams even as they defy societal expectations. 

Seeing her, it’s impossible not to wonder out loud: how did her extraordinary journey begin?

Years ago, Lalitha stumbled upon driving via Azad Foundation — a deviation from the customary professions of sewing and embroidery that the womenfolk of her community indulged in. The novelty of driving, coupled with the promise of financial independence, pushed her towards taking the wheel. It was a calling that felt right to her — a chance to shatter gender barriers and revel in the freedom it provides.

A journey filled with obstacles 

“When I decided to become a driver, no one supported me,” Lalitha reminisces, her voice tinged with a mix of nostalgia and pain. Born and raised in a society where traditional gender roles dictate the paths individuals are expected to tread, Lalitha’s journey to becoming a professional driver was not a smooth ride. She was subject to ridicule, scorn, disdain, and nasty comments targeted at her by the members of her community. “They commented on my work timings, my choice to stay out late, and never refrained from speaking ill of me and my profession.”

Their conservative thinking found a way to percolate into her father’s mind, who stood staunchly against her choice of profession. He believed that driving was not a profession befitting a woman. He did not speak with Lalitha for one and a half years, a period that caused her many sleepless nights. 

But Lalitha refused to succumb to his disapproval. It took her years of fighting and standing up for herself to bring her family on the same page as her. Finally, what swayed her father was her repaying the loan to free her family home from its mortgage. She remembers that day with pride and an overwhelming sense of relief. “If I had not done that, who knows when or if I’d have ever made amends with my father,” she muses.

Outside her house, things were not easy either. She faced ridicule and even taunts and skepticism from fellow male drivers. Still, undeterred by all the naysayers who did not see driving as a woman’s field of work, Lalitha emerged stronger, her resolve unyielding. 

While many of her male counterparts laughed as they passed her on the road, claiming that women drivers are only ever good at crashing the vehicle, others saluted her to support her dreams. Lalitha cherishes these moments of encouragement even years later as she recounts her journey. 

From a student to a mentor

Her association with Azad, an NGO dedicated to empowering women by training them to drive, proved to be a turning point in her life in more ways than one. “Azad gave me more than just driving lessons; it gave me confidence,” Lalitha affirms, her eyes reflecting her gratitude towards the organization. “I learned more about how to read people, navigate routes, and be more assertive. At home, I started making my own decisions and helping my family on important matters. Azad taught me to stand tall in the face of adversity, to embrace my identity as a woman driver with pride.”

Through her perseverance and passion, Lalitha not only became a proficient driver but also an instructor, mentoring hundreds of women aspiring to follow in her footsteps. Training and changing the lives of 500-600 women is her most prized accomplishment to date. Lalitha’s confidence grew with each milestone she crossed, transforming her from a timid individual into a formidable force.

From Delhi to Europe

As fate would have it, Lalitha’s journey took an unexpected turn with the opportunity to work in Europe — a dream she had harbored for years. Despite the apprehension of leaving behind her family and familiar surroundings, Lalitha embraces the prospect with open arms, eager to encounter new challenges and opportunities.

Her family, her husband, and the entire neighborhood beam with pride for her accomplishments. Where once they stood as barriers to her progress, they now champion her journey, offering unwavering support and encouragement.

As she prepares for her new chapter with Baton, Lalitha’s emotions oscillate between excitement and apprehension. The prospect of navigating unfamiliar territories and adhering to stringent rules posed a daunting challenge. Yet, beneath the veneer of uncertainty is her childlike excitement at getting an opportunity that is as far removed from her dreams as she thought possible. 

For Lalitha, Europe represents a geographical shift and a gateway to new horizons. With aspirations of becoming a driving instructor and fulfilling her dream of owning a house, Lalitha’s journey is far from over. 

As the wheels of destiny set Lalitha on a new trajectory, her story serves as a reminder that sometimes, the greatest journeys begin with a single step   — a step taken against the current tide of resistance, in pursuit of dreams yet to unfold.