Zahida Kazmi talks about the travails of being a woman cab driver to Mohammad Shehzad
Our male dominated society accepts a woman working as a teacher, nurse, salesperson, etc. but to deviate from the norm takes a lot of courage. To become a cab driver — a profession meant for the rough and tough and not the dainty —is hard but Zahida Kazmi was confident she could take on the challenge. For a woman to enter the realm of men can pose a serious challenge to their monopoly. By becoming a cabdriver and fighting the odds for nine years Zahida has set her contemporaries a good example of not only the ‘dignity of work’ but also proved the truth of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words that no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.
Zahida Kazmi is perhaps the first woman cab driver in the history of Pakistan. In an interview with The Review, Zahida narrates how she was able to survive the odds.
Q. What prompted you to become a cabdriver?
A. I lost my husband after a few years of marriage. I was still very young and could have re-married but I decided to become self-reliant. I had taken driving lessons from my husband. I had to do something to support my family but I didn’t want to be involved in any chores. I was ambitious enough to do something that I was capable of doing but that nobody had ever done before. I found out that cab-driving was one of the professions that women had not taken up. Therefore, I decided to experiment.
Q. How did people and passengers react to you?
A. I started driving my ‘yellow cab’ in Rawalpindi in 1992. I did not know the ropes then. At that time, there were 250 cab drivers in Rawalpindi. They would hijack my passengers. I felt frustrated. For twelve days, I drove without a passenger. Then I developed courage and started to talk to the passengers and bargaining for fares. Thus, I started recieving some passengers. Within a very short period, I made other drivers respect me. By 1994, I became the president of the cab drivers’ union unopposed. I got elected for the next term too.
Q. On what route do you mostly drive your cab?
A. I rarely drive on the local route. I drive on the long route. I have driven passengers from Islamabad Airport to Azad Kashmir and almost every city of Punjab, NWFP, and Balochistan.
Q. Does your family support you?
A. The misery is, I don’t own a cab. I’m paid only 200 rupees per day. With this little amount, I pay the house rent, the utility bills and raise six children. All my children go to school. My eldest daughter is a science graduate and has recently been married. Another daughter is doing her F.Sc. degree.
Q. How do the police treat you?
A. I deeply admire the police of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They have been encouraging me. They have never extorted money from me.
Q. How did society react towards your becoming a cab driver?
A. A maulvi accused me of spreading obscenity and speading vulgarity in society. I went to him as he was delivering the Friday sermon and asked him to ensure that my basic needs are taken care of, so that I could quit the profession. It made him speechless. The public then reproached him.
My relatives have boycotted me. They don’t let me see my mother any more. They do not even send matrimonial proposals to my daughters. On the other hand, strangers have given me a lot of strength. My son-in-law and his family respect my profession and give me immense moral support.
Q. Did anybody try to harm you because you were a woman in this profession?
A. No profession is bad. It depends on you as to how you make it, whether good or bad. Such things can never happen as long as you have a strong character. I saw to it that I kept myself away from any such troubles.
Q. Any bitter experiences?
A. Once, two men made an abortive attempt to snatch my cab at gunpoint. I picked them up from Rawalpindi. They wanted to visit Daman-e- Koh. I demanded a fare of 500 rupees which they silently accepted. This made me suspicious because, if a passenger does not bicker with you, there is something wrong. I always keep a duplicate key in my socks. When I was driving them back from Daman-e-Koh, one of the guys put a gun to my head. I immediately threw the key out of the window. They got out of the cab looking for it. Meanwhile, I started the cab with the duplicate key and ran away. I reported the matter to the police post at the Daman-e- Koh entrance but the robbers had disappeared. They had probably had to the other side of the mountains.
Q. Are you a careful driver?
A. I must say that I am. I ensure that my passengers feel comfortable with my driving. I have driven the UN staff and they have appreciated my driving. Some of them have even done so in writing.
Q. Will you encourage or discourage your daughter if she opts to become a cab driver?
A. I would prefer her not to become a cab driver and to rather study and take up a better profession. But I won’t discourage her if she is caught in the same circumstances that I had to face.