Life can never be a bed of roses, and more so when there is a daily hand-to-mouth struggle. Hemlata, the protagonist of this story, has seen life play cruel games with her time and again but she always found a way to go on and win. Today, she is recognised and respected for her strong and fierce personality.
It began when she was 10. A dispute in the family caused her parents to leave behind Agra and move to Jaipur. Her father set up a chaat stall while the mother took up a job in garment industry. They could manage some savings which got Hemlata enrolled in a dance class. She picked up the art fast and started performing with a Ghoomar dance group. She earned Rs 500 per show and was very happy to pursue her passion.
Her talent was appreciated and encouraged by her friends and family. The future looked bright until she got married and pregnant. Her husband and in-laws demanded hefty dowry from Hemlata and her parents. They were tortured and harassed for not fulfilling her husband’s financial demands. Soon she, along with her child, was kicked out after which she moved in with her parents.
It was a very difficult time for her as she had to support her child and aging parents. Unsure of what to do next, one day, Hemlata left home in her brother’s auto-rickshaw and did not stop until she found a customer willing to pay Rs 70 in exchange for a ride somewhere on Jaipur roads. This was beginning of a career, a new hope that she can again become self sufficient.
Soon she got an auto-rickshaw financed for herself and fiercely jumped into the male-dominated profession. Her move was not well-received by her driver community as she got more passengers who she treated much better than her male counterparts. Discrimination at work place on the basis of one’s gender is very common in India. This is aimed to discourage women from joining the work force and living a financially independent life.
Auto-rickshaw drivers in Jaipur started playing foul games with her wishing she would quit this and pick up something else. Often her auto’s tyre were punctured, she was verbally abused and mentally harassed. Hemlata did not waver and one day she was subjected to physical violence by an auto-rickshaw driver.
It must be appreciated that despite all the abuse and oppression, Hemlata did not chicken down. Today, she joyously drives around tourists, most of them foreigners, in her auto. Salute to the woman who is battling alone on the streets of Jaipur, alongside supporting her parents and son. More power to you!