Chennai: Over the years, a lot of things have changed for the good. After years of resistance, women are finally getting a place they deserve in this world. Women across all strata of society have become self-reliant, and they are making significant contributions in various fields of work. Among these empowered women is Raji Ashok, a 51-year-old woman, who drives an auto rickshaw on the streets of Chennai. People affectionately call her ‘Raji Akka’ meaning ‘elder sister.’ She has been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 25 years. 

Who is Raji Ashok?

Raji Ashok is a resident of Chennai, Tamil Nadu; her father used to work in the catering business. She has six sisters and a brother. Raji pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy. During her academic journey, she fell in love with Ashok, a local auto rickshaw driver in her village. In 1992, Raji married Ashok and relocated to Coimbatore.

Working in a travel agency

Raji began her career at a travel agency in Coimbatore after her marriage. In 1994, their daughter was born, who currently holds a B Com degree. In 1998, their son was born, and works as an accountant in a hospital today. One fine day, a terrible accident occurred that turned Raji’s life upside down. 

A bomb blast in Coimbatore 

The 1998 bomb blast in Coimbatore was a tragic event that resulted in the death of 60 people, and left a profound impact on countless others, including Raji and her husband. Faced with the harsh reality of life, Raji, along with her family, made the decision to relocate to Chennai, seeking a fresh start. With the responsibility of raising and educating her children, Raji began attending interviews at various places, but her efforts were met with disappointments. After discussing the situation with her husband, they made the joint decision that Raji would pursue a career as an auto rickshaw driver.

Family’s support

Raji's decision to become an auto rickshaw driver received unwavering support from her family and her husband. Her prior experience with driving in Coimbatore proved valuable as they embarked on their new life in Chennai. The bustling traffic of Chennai presented its fair share of challenges on Raji's first day as an auto rickshaw driver, but with time, she adapted and became better at navigating the crowded roads.

Offering free night rides

Raji’s family and husband stood firmly by her side throughout this journey. In Chennai, Raji earned recognition and became known as ‘Raji Akka.’ Reflecting on her remarkable journey, she shares that she has encountered many hurdles in life, but her journey has been truly remarkable.

She provides free rides for small children, elderly women, and those in need who may not have the means to pay. Her phone number is printed on her rickshaw, and she's always available to assist women facing difficulties, even during the late hours of the night. Raji emphasizes that she never ignores a call from a woman in need, even after her shift has ended. She receives numerous calls from women needing transportation to Chennai airport after 9:00 pm, and she never turns them down.

Raji shares an incident when years ago, she witnessed a drunk auto rickshaw driver taking a woman to her destination late at night. Seeing this, Raji made a commitment to always ensure that women reach their destinations safely, regardless of the time. She completes a minimum of 30 trips every day, whether it's day or night.

Food in the autorickshaw

Raji’s autorickshaw is equipped with a first aid kit containing essentials like paracetamol, cotton buds, bandages, and surgical pads. Additionally, she provides water bottles and biscuits to her customers, ensuring that they have refreshments during the journey. This is not only for passengers' convenience but also for any unforeseen emergencies that may arise during the ride.

Raji's dedication to her passengers and her well-prepared autorickshaw has proven successful, as she earns an impressive monthly income ranging from Rs 38,000 to Rs 40,000, demonstrating her commitment to both her passengers' needs and her own livelihood.