• The Feminist Times

DISCOVERING MALE PRIVILEGE IN DELHI AUTOS



The lived experiences of the gender gap and how it affects regular life for women can be

observed by taking a simple auto-ride in the capital city of the country, New Delhi. As a

woman who had to undertake daily 1.5 hour commuting sessions to college, I believed I was

a resident expert in the art of bargaining with auto-waalas. Every Delhi girl has learned the

art of negotiation and experienced rejection at the hands of several auto-waalas who often

overcharge and dismiss pricing metres.

My expertise was debunked when I went out once with my twin brother in Delhi. Due to him

being a hosteller outside of Delhi, I believed I would “educate” him on the pressure tactics I

regularly applied on auto-waalas. However, before I got the chance, my brother ran ahead of

me, charging towards the auto-waalas, and simply told them the address of our house, got

inside, and beckoned towards me. My jaw dropped. When we reached our location, the auto

waala quoted an exorbitant price which was stoically countered by my brother. The auto-

waala paused and then readily agreed. I couldn’t believe it. The sense of authority and ease

with which my brother instructed the driver was awe inspiring. As women, we are told to not

“provoke” men, especially those who are in charge of transporting you. One is supposed to

arrive at a fixed price before getting in, always keep the GPS maps open, and chart out exit

strategies in case the auto-waala seems to be veering off course. If we’re travelling late at

night, cab locations and “fake” phone calls often become the norm. Conversing and haggling

with auto-waalas while in transit is broached with the utmost caution so as to not convey the

“wrong message’. I realised that something as basic as an auto ride was a window into the

burden of ‘safety’ which in unfairly placed on women every day. The burden of always

calculating, appearing timid and being prepared for the worst case scenario was cancelled out

by my brother simply walking up and stepping inside the auto.

On another legendary day, the auto-waalas formed their infamous cartel outside the metro

station and unilaterally increased the base fair by Rs.5 which enraged everyone. I was sitting

inside the auto when the auto-waala came and explained the mark-up to me. I was about to

resign myself without protest when a fearless co passenger beside me started arguing

incessantly with the driver. She even involved a nearby traffic cop who signalled the auto-

waala to take us to our destination. As I sat in the auto, I was equal parts awestruck and equal

parts terrified. I congratulated my co passenger for being the hero that she was and for

fighting for our rights. I waited with bated breath, till we covered the short 1.5 km distance to

college. Only until we were inside the college gates, once again surrounded by the familiarity

and comfort of our all girls environment did I finally relax. I hurried onto class, sadly

thinking about how I could never imitate what my co passenger had done, and about how

women often end up paying the ‘safety tax’ which unfairly places a strain on our time,

mental and economic resources. And how commuting is often unpleasant because we have to

be alert and anxious all the time. How women often end up paying more because they’re

scared/hesitant of bargaining/taking joint shared cabs with strange passengers. How we

expend a considerable amount of our time in whetting various drivers instead of claiming our

rite of passage. So ladies, if you want to every demonstrate the power of male privilege to

someone who believes women HaVe ThE bAsIc EqUaLiTy, simply invite them over to an

auto ride with you.


- Abhinanda Dash

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