Recently we were invited by the Rotary group of Deonar President, Rtn. Vidhya Subramanian to take a BEST bus ride with her and the other rotary members and also attend a felicitation function afterwards. It was not just any regular ride and felicitation. The 42 meters long BEST was not only driven by a woman but also the conductor of the bus was a woman. Yes, the guest of honours this time were two remarkable ladies, Lakshmi Jadhav, the first female driver, BEST undertaking and Sujata Bhujbal, the first female conductor, BEST undertaking.
When these two ladies decided to take up jobs in an occupation that has been dominated for almost 100 years by only men, their journey was anything but easy.
13 years ago, Sujata’s husband, a BEST bus driver, passed away while on duty. Young Sujata, a housewife, was left with the challenge of bringing up a small child. So when the company offered her a job, though she knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey in an all male dominated occupation, she took the challenge and accepted the offer. However, with the support of her male colleagues and also encouragement from bus passengers, Sujata today is a role model for the other women in society.
Lakshmi Jadhav journey began from an anda bhurji seller to the first auto rickshaw woman driver to now the first BEST woman driver in Mumbai. Her story is perfect for a Bollywood movie. But in reality it has not been an easy one. When Lakshmi Jadhav’s husband lost his job, she took it upon herself to feed her family of 5 by selling anda bhurji pao on the streets. While serving food mainly to auto rickshaw drivers, Lakshmi decided to get an auto rickshaw permit in 2016 to meet the growing expenses of her family. Later she started driving four wheelers also. Today Laksmi drives a 42 meters long BEST bus daily between Dharavi and South Mumbai. She continues to drive her auto rickshaw in the evenings.
Both Sujata and Lakshmi have set examples for the women that nothing is impossible.This is the first time in the history of BEST that women are both driving and managing their buses.