Rickshaw drivers take 'respect for women' message to Delhi's streets

Rickshaw drivers take 'respect for women' message to Delhi's streets
Narotan Singh, 37, poses in his auto-rickshaw along a roadside in New Delhi November 12, 2014. The words inside the rickshaw read, ''This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women''.

NEW DELHI - Delhi rickshaw driver Narotan Singh was never interested in the problems faced by women and girls - his only interaction with the opposite sex was with females from his middle-class family such as his mother, wife and daughter.

Weaving through the streets of the Indian capital, the 37-year-old driver would often frown or stare through his rear view mirror at female passengers wearing tight-fitting jeans or skirts, or make a comment about how they should not smoke or be out late.

But Singh's chauvinistic ways are now behind him.

Last month his attitude to women was transformed by a class on gender sensitisation run by the charity Manas Foundation and Delhi's Transport Department.

"When I was told that we have to do this training, I was not happy as I thought it was an unnecessary waste of my time - time which I could use to make some money by picking up passengers," said Singh from the driver's seat of his green and yellow motorised three-wheeler.

"But when I went into the training and understood the problems faced by women on Delhi's streets and that I had the ability to change this, I realised that this is something that everyone should know about."

Singh is one of 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi who have already attended the classes and are helping to spread the message of respect for women across the city, which has become known as India's "rape capital".

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of reported rapes in India rose by 35.2 per cent to 33,707 in 2013 from the previous year. Delhi was the city with the highest number of rapes, reporting 1,441 in 2013.

DELHI'S GATEKEEPERS

Experts say the media attention surrounding the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 helped to raise awareness about safety for women on transport and in public places.

The attack, which prompted thousands of urban Indians to protest against rising violence against women, also highlighted the need to change the attitudes of men and boys in India's largely conservative and patriarchal society.

"We show the city's shocking statistics on rape and then provide anecdotes and pictures to drive home the point of how serious the situation is," said Smita Tewari Pant, a trainer on the gender sensitisation from the Manas Foundation.

"We also explain that ... businesses will be affected as tourists will stop coming to Delhi if violence against women continues as it is."

But what has been most effective in engaging participants, said Pant, is the message that auto-rickshaw drivers are, in essence, the city's gate-keepers who have the power to change the situation by making women feel secure and respected.

The message allows drivers to feel that they are not part of the problem, but part of the solution, she added.

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