Karnataka: Women truly are a magnificent force and their ability to overcome obstacles continue to inspire and empower others. Selvi Kunjigowda was married at a tender age of 13. This is an age, when kids are more bothered about choosing their favourite flavour of ice creams, but Selvi was made to carry much greater responsibilities. 

Experiencing physical abuse at that age, left Selvi traumatized for years. She was subject to heinous tortures and her life was made miserable. One day, she gathered her courage and decided to run away from her in-laws’ house. Escaping the suffocating walls of that house, Selvi reached a highway. She thought of committing suicide, but she stopped. She thought about the life she could lead, away from such exploitative brutes. She boarded a bus and went to Mysore. 

Gathering the courage

Selvi’s maternal home was not any better. Her mother and brothers used to beat her up for no reason at all. She had become a punching bag for them. In exchange of some earrings and utensils, she was married to an abusive husband. She became a victim of domestic violence and suffered from it for five long years. She was young and did not know anything about starting a new life away from this violence. 

Growing in an abusive household, makes one believe that this is what life is and they are worth nothing. It takes an immense amount of time and strength to relearn things and to transform oneself into an educated and independent individual. 

At the age of 18, Selvi ran away from the house. It took a while to stabilize herself but after reaching Mysore, her life changed for the better. Building the courage to stand against the years of abuse was in itself an incredible achievement for her. 

Learning how to drive

Selvi reached an NGO called ‘Odanadi’ in Mysore. Her fascination with cars prompted her to take up driving. She had never even ridden a simple bicycle let alone a motored vehicle. Things were intimidating for her but since she had already accomplished the unthinkable by started a new life, nothing was unattainable for her now. 

The director of the NGO was kind-hearted and advised the driving instructor to be patient with teaching her how to drive. When Selvi along with other women, became experts at driving, the NGO collected some funds and bought a Maruti Suzuki Omni van. Selvi was the first one to gain confidence to drive a car on her own. The NGO started a cab service and with this Selvi became India’s first female cab driver. 

Driving bigger vehicles

Selvi has become so capable that now she can drive freight vehicles like buses and trucks. Nothing scares her anymore. She has forged deep bonds with other women at the NGO and works in a safe environment. Selvi gives speeches about women empowerment and talks about domestic violence. 

Selvi feels happy that she did not end her life on the highway years ago. Had she done that, she would have missed becoming a self-reliant and inspirational woman. In the year 2018, the President of India honoured Selvi with the Indian Women Achievers Award. 

Real to Reel

While working as a driver, Selvi met Viji, another cab driver. Selvi and Viji are happily married today, and they have two healthy kids. 

A filmmaker learned about Selvi’s experiences and made a documentary film based on her life. The film is called ‘Driving with Selvi’ and portrays Selvi’s life experiences from 2004 to 2014.