A homemaker in her early 30s, Sony, likes to cover her head with a scarf when she goes out. “I just feel comfortable that way, I have been doing it since I was quite young,” smiles the mother of one.
These days, she feels very much at ease riding a scooter. As soon as she turns it on, her eyes sparkle and her tender arms firmly clutch the handles.
Taking a deep breath, she looks straight ahead and rides on. She succeeded doing one round today.
“This happens all the time. Ordinary girls become extraordinary when they become confident about themselves,” said Atiqua Roma, team leader and founder of the all-women driving school Jabo Bohudur (Miles to go), which was founded in 2018.
She used to be an NGO worker and her journey from working in the development sector to opening up a driving school is an eventful one.
As a young child, she had a great fascination for motor bikes. She learnt to ride one when she was only a student of class-V.
After doing some research, she found out that women drivers preferred riding a scooty rather than normal bikes, and so she bought one in 2008.
She was still not okay with how people looked down on scooters, so decided to break the myth and conquer the Thanchi-Alikodom trail, South Asia’s second longest road trail. On December 25, 2017, she became the first woman on a scooter to achieve this success.
At the same time, news of women being harassed in public was flooding the media. (There were even stories of these women commuters’ clothes being cut with sharp blades while they used the public transportation system.)
Atiqua was deeply concerned by the events and thought of coming up with a solution.
She said, “When you are on the road and driving a scooter, you have to be very alert. At the same time, you have to be a quick decision maker. When you can be both, it will make you more flexible. Other than this, one added skill always boosts your confidence.”
She later started working with an organisation called Yukta, but soon decided to manage it on her own.
It was a rocky road for her, to build everything from scratch. Nobody wanted to rent-out a space for an all-women driving school. After a few months, Sultana Kamal Complex stepped up to help her.
Now she had a quiet space where she can teach in peace.
Initially, her driving school faced a lot of criticism, but within six months things improved a lot. Shipra Bose and Mitrani Podder gifted 2 scooters to Jabo Bohudur for starting it's new journey.
Leena Hasia Huq from BRAC Uganda and one of Atiqua's students, Soheli Rose, helped her with the registration.
Since she opened her school, she has trained over 50 batches.
Along with teaching them how to drive, she also teaches her students safety tricks such as never to choose a secluded road, even as a short cut.
Atiqua said, “85% of the students who attend my driving school are working women who just want to avoid the harassments of public transportation.”
She also said there was a time when people used to taunt women riders and tried to harm them. Bus drivers would call them names and even male bikers would join in.
Having a liberal mother has taught Atiqua the importance of being independent which she tries to instil into the minds of her students as well.
Jabo Bohudur is not just a driving school now, it is a place of enjoying sisterhood with fellow drivers.