"We don't realise how several women remain handicapped when it comes to mobility and are dependent on others for daily chores outside their homes," says Founder of Aatm Nirbhar, Pawani Khandelwal, who is on a mission to build women-driven and women-oriented two-wheeler riding schools in across the country.
For women in metropolitan cities, riding a scooter has become a necessity. But as we move towards Tier 2 or 3 cities, the situation is not the same. The number of women drivers in states like Uttar Pradesh is drastically low and not all have access to this opportunity.
Aatm Nirbhar is a social venture in Uttar Pradesh's holy city of Mathura, that aims at building a community to train women, employ them who in turn, upskill other women in riding two-wheelers. It was started in November 2017 by 25-year old Pawani and is currently run by female trainers in Mathura, Bharatpur, Jaipur and several other cities.
Aatm Nirbhar's 10-day driving course is curated for women who have never even ridden a bicycle and helps them become self-reliant.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Pawani said, "I always commuted on a two-wheeler but I never realised the worth of this mobility. I remember how my mother learnt how to ride a scooty. That is when I realised that this can actually make a huge impact on people's lives. I remember her telling me how being able to ride feels like you've got wings."
Pawani used to ride a Royal Enfield Desert Storm in her home town, Mathura. Soon, she came up with the idea of Aatm Nirbhar when she understood how important is vehicular independence to women.
Talking about what motivated Pawani to start the social venture, she said, "We talk about so many things, skill development, education and women empowerment, but we somewhere did not focus the very base of this-mobility. If you are unable to commute or move out of your house, how will you do anything else?"
After Pawani's mother learnt how to ride a two-wheeler in Mathura, several women came forward to learn.
"I saw it as a business opportunity or something I could do on a large scale when several women showed their interests in learning how to ride a two-wheeler and be independent. That was my opportunity to create a change," Pawani said.
Something that began as a bootstrapped venture with minimal capital investment, Aatm Nirbhar is now equipped to recover its expenditure from its own revenues.
Apart from training women how to ride a two-wheeler, Aatm Nirbhar also focuses on generating employment for women. Many trainers who are a part of the team hail from economically backward strata and the job helps them contribute to their family income.
"We told them that this is a job which is respectable, which is going to get you money and will be safe," Pawani said.
The initiative has also been recognised by the Transport Ministry of the state of Uttar Pradesh and the Central government's "Start-Up India" programme.
Speaking about what she looks at in the longer run, Pawani confidently said: "Every time we step on the roads, there should be an equal number of men and women."
Alumni of Ashoka Changemaker, Pawani Khandelwal, believes that mobility is a need and has remained non-existent.
"The idea is to empower women through mobility and in mobility. We don't see too many women working as food delivery personnel or drivers," Pawani told The Logical Indian.
Something that began as an opportunity to empower women, breaking the shackles of the society has faced several challenges and resistance from women.
"Initially when we hired some girls to train women in two-wheelers, there was a lot of stigma towards this job. Initially, we would find it difficult to find even one single woman to train others. We are facing many challenges. But I think we are getting there, one day at a time."
Aatm Nirbhar is now looking at expanding to cities beyond Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Pawani Khandelwal and her initiative celebrate the power of women and dream of seeing India with more independent women riders.
"Aatm Nirbhar is not just a company, but a thought that has inspired and continues to inspire thousands of women to rediscover their lost sense of independence and self-reliance," says Pawani.