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Sunitha Choudhury: She Ran Away As a Child Bride to Create her Own Destiny

December 11, 2010

photo credit: Amrit Dhillon

If you are ever in Delhi, this is one Indian woman you don’t want to miss!

Sunitha Choudhury,  the city’s first woman three-wheel auto driver, is certainly to be admired because of the job she holds, navigating  on a daily basis the streets of Delhi, which government studies confirm to be the most unsafe city for women in India. But what makes Sunitha an even more impressive figure, is the journey she took and the battles she fought, to reach to where she is today.

Sunitha’s story reveals that from her childhood she was subject to almost every form of horror that besiege girls and women in India.  And each time she was knocked down, and struggled to get back on her feet, she had absolutely no one to turn to.  No family, no community, no friends, no NGOs or Charities.  Sunitha fought this battle solo! Absolutely alone!  And in the end she emerged victorious!

The Child-Bride

Sunitha was a child-bride [Read our post on ‘India’s Child Brides].  At the age of 12 she was married off to a man in Meerut, who was alcoholic.   Her childhood turned into a nightmare of rape and violence.  As is often the case, she was also being emotionally and physically abused by her in-laws who wanted more dowry.  Her parents wouldn’t allow her back into their home, and advised her to learn to live with the abuse.  On one occasion, Sunitha, was subject to a brutal gang-beating by her in-laws.  Fearing for her life, and still a teenager, she decided to run away to the city of Delhi.  By now pregnant and penniless, she realized fast enough that the streets were even more unsafe.  She finally got a job as a cleaner in a clinic, and the owner would allow her to stay the night within the complex.  It was the safest option she had.  A few months later her baby was born, but died.

A Turning Point

She carried on with her job at the clinic and then there was another turning point in her life, an event that led her to decide that she wanted to be an auto-driver.  It happened when one evening she came across an accident victim on the streets.  Finding no one around, she called for an auto and took the man to the hospital. Even though he was badly injured, they were able to save his life.  She decided that she wanted to be of similar service to people.  In fact, now that she is an auto-driver, there have been many a time when she has stopped to help accident victims, reach them to the hospital and contact their relatives.

On Her Own Wheels

But getting an auto license had been a monumental task for her.  No woman had ever applied before, and the state transportation officials kept turning her away for two years.  She refused to give up, so they finally had to change their mind. In 2003 she got her license and took her training for from the Institute of Driving, Training and Research (IDTR). However, even as a licensed auto-driver she would have a hard time convincing auto owners to rent out their vehicles to her.  She drove rented autos for a year and half, and then decided that she needed to be freer.  So in 2004 she got a loan and purchased her own three-wheeler!

Taking Control

Now she doesn’t have to beg and borrow other autos and she can indulge in another passion of hers. “If I see a victim on the road, I want to take them to the hospital. For this I used to get into fights with other auto-rickshaw drivers because they didn’t want to get involved. So I thought if I drove my own auto, it would make things easier for me.”

It’s not an easy job.  She sometimes gets jeered at for doing a “man’s job,” but at the same time she’s also admired.  She says “Women tell me they feel a lot safer with me because I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. They say they feel scared with male drivers because sometimes they are drunk and drive rashly. They say they feel safe with me even late at night.”

She’s fearless, and sometimes even does night shifts.  She keeps her hair short and wears shirts and trousers.   Not only is this attire more comfortable and practical for work, than say a sari or a salwar-kameez, the traditional attires for women in India would be, but as Sunitha points out, “It works to my advantage to look like a boy. And at night, passengers call out to me and say, ‘hey brother, drop me at so and so place’.”

Dreaming Ahead

Her next goal is to become a Member of Parliament.  She wants to represent the poor. “I tell them that I am one of them. I understand their need for jobs, homes, education and water. You cannot have dignity the way the poor live,” she says.

She also wants to teach other women how to drive auto-rickshaws and introduce them to her profession. She wants for them what she has found in her life.  “I feel like a queen when I drive around the city,” she says. “I am in control of my destiny, I can earn my living and I am happy…And although I’m a woman, I’m far braver than most men.”

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. Please see our copyright notice.

Also see our post The World At Her Feet — Tapati Sen: 50 MM’s Superwoman


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie R permalink
    December 12, 2010 12:39 pm

    Yes, you’re very brave, Sunitha, and very inspiring!

  2. Prateeksha permalink
    December 15, 2010 6:38 am

    Sunitha is says she is a woman. Hence she is far braver than most men.
    Men are often misunderstood to be naturally much braver. But what most don’t realize is that they have it a lot easier. The environment they live in is conducive to bravery. But with many women in India especially, leading even a normal life involves the need to overcome great difficulties unthinkable by most men.

  3. emery permalink
    March 6, 2012 9:34 pm

    she’s certainly braver than me I’m a man and I wouldn’t go anywhere in New Delhi not within sight of Parliament without an AK-47. That’s illegal of course but you get my point. she”s in all kinds of danger out there everything from drug addicts to the ISI might come after her. I guess that’s why she doesn’t wear a sari. It might be the prettiest dress ever made but it also causes lots problems. I’ve even heard that a lot of the women killed in terrorist attacks in India died because they tripped on or were otherwise slowed down by there saris and couldn’t get out of the way in time. I don’t know if that’s true or not but if it is I’ll believe it. anyway speaking of terrorism maybe some day she’ll take one of the ISI’s victims to the hospital and get on national TV. thus spreading the message all over India. Karma works in strange ways.

  4. jacqueline colaco permalink
    March 1, 2013 1:08 pm

    admirable woman…

  5. Jodi-Ann Richards permalink
    September 14, 2013 11:19 pm

    Wow. She is very brave.

  6. sahitha permalink
    December 10, 2013 3:42 pm

    I do not know where she got this strength, courage from. Very, very brave. I should meet her one day.


  1. Sunitha Choudhury: Als Kindsbraut floh sie, um ihr Schicksal selbst zu bestimmen | The 50 Million Missing Campaign: "50 Millionen verschwunden"

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