Revathi Roy is a rally car driver turned entrepreneur in a simple cotton sari. Have you ever met a woman like that before?
Roy started Viira Cabs on January 17 with Preeti Sharma Menon, a friend who was looking to do something new. Viira, meaning courageous woman, is unique in its structure.
Her company employed and trained women to be drivers at a time when, she says, “No one had ever heard of a commercial driver being a woman.” Whilst it’s a cab service for women, it is also a female driver bureau, a recruitment agency and a motor training school.
All drivers, whether part of the regular cab-service or whether hired by customers as personal chauffeurs, go through a training programme. For Rs 10,000 and over a period of three months, women at Viira’s motor training school undergo 155 hours of driving, in addition to classes on road knowledge, traffic signs, martial arts, customer relations, etiquette and grooming.
Once trained, many of these women are recruited by large corporations and hotels. Today, some of them can be seen at the front of a BMW.
How did Roy come up with such a great idea?
“Viira came about because I saw a need,” Roy says. “It was just a normal business.”
However, know that her “normal business” isn’t exactly ordinary. It has empowered hundreds of young women by recognizing that driving is a skill that can given many Mumbai ladies a dignified living, apart from a whole lot of confidence.
“Viira is a very powerful platform for poor, urban women who are now able to earn up to Rs 12,000 a month. I see this every day. My hope now is to go to Tier 2 cities where Indian women are most starved of opportunities,” Roy says.
But Viira’s USP, beyond being all-female, is undoubtedly its service. A quick look at the inside of a Maruti Eco Viira cab and you’ll know precisely what that means.
Every woman has to wear blue jeans and a striped shirt with polished black shoes. In addition, Viira has given its drivers silver nail polish, pink lipstick and a pair of pearl earrings. But if these gentle-looking creatures are harassed, God help you.
“If drivers find eve teasers they’ve been told to just hammer them. We’ve put pepper spray and batons in every single car. We’ll deal with the cops later,” quips the co-founder. The women also get karate lessons as a part of their training.
While Roy thinks there’s a market for this kind of business in many cities, she knows that it is Mumbai’s relative safety that has made her ventures possible. Her hope is that Viira will increase the mobility of senior citizens and young girls who will feel much safer in the hands of a trained, female driver. “The attitude of Indian mothers is changing. Now they know their daughters go out and drink. They realize they may as well keep them safe by putting them in the hands of a woman who at all times is playing the role of a mother or a sister. A man can’t be a woman. And just because a woman is sitting at the wheel she doesn’t become a man.”
Revathi Roy – she is ‘Viira’, indeed!