In The Driving Seat: India’s School for Female Taxi Drivers

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How do you make transport safe for women in a place where violence and rape are endemic? A simple but radical scheme is training women from the slums of Delhi, Jaipur and Kolkata as cabbies.

Order a cab in London, Mumbai, New York or Beijing, and chances are the driver will be a man. Female taxi drivers remain rare wherever you go, probably even more so in the cities where women and girls are most at risk of sexual assault on public transport.

For one pioneering nonprofit organisation in India, which was last year ranked as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for a woman to take public transport, the answer is simple, practical and radical: put more women in the driver’s seat.

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Women on Wheels, based in Delhi and now rolled out to Jaipur and Kolkata, has trained dozens of women to become taxi drivers. Over an eight-month course the students – invariably poor from surrounding slums – learn English, self defence, CPR, communication skills, and obtain their first driver’s licence. For many, their first ID card. After spending a year as a full-time chauffeur for a family they apply for a commercial licence and go on to work for a taxi firm that only employs women drivers.

Claudio Montesano Casillas’s intimate and low-key photographs tell this story through the courage of individual women who have decided, often without telling anyone for fear of recrimination, to become taxi drivers. To enter what is traditionally seen – and not just in India – as an exclusively male occupation. The photos, seemingly natural and unposed, mark everyday moments on the road or in training.

A close-up of the back of a woman’s head as she crouches down to change a tyre. The view out of a windscreen as a driver adjusts her rear view mirror and a man on the street watches her. A student frowning in concentration as she throws punches in a self-defence class.

The proud and determined expression of a qualified driver, one hand resting on the wheel of her car. There is perhaps no other city in the world that needs a project like Women on Wheels as much as Delhi, where violence against women has grown to endemic proportions.

On average 40 crimes against women are registered daily by Delhi police, including at least four cases of rape. Earlier this year an Uber taxi driver was convicted of raping a female passenger in the city. And it was in Delhi, in 2012, that a 23-year-old woman was fatally gang-raped by six men on a bus, sparking an international outcry and protests across India.

Training women to become taxi drivers in a country where more than half of the 5.5 million women who enter the workforce each year express serious concern for the safety of their commute doesn’t just benefit and empower the women who are driving. It makes the woman in the passenger seat safer, too.

the guardian