Free Me

7 min read
02 Sep 2016
7 min read
1563 words
The scooter is no longer a luxury item for women. For those who want to become independent, it’s become a must
The scooter is no longer a luxury item for women. For those who want to become independent, it’s become a must

It almost felt like the wheels reinvented things in my life. For the last six years, my scooter has been an extension of my legs, only exponentially faster. I don’t have to worry about the last bus home—the worry of which used to consume me, and numerous others like me, for the longest time. Gone are the days when I had to depend on my friends to pick me up here and drop me off there. 

Today, I am the master of my own time. I am completely in charge of my schedule. I don’t have to be burdened by the guilt of my asking friends for rides. Personal mobility allowed by a scooter has created a ripple of benefits— financial, psychological and social—for Nepali women like me. Having our own vehicles has not only given us control over our time, it has also reinforced countless Nepali women’s sense of freedom and independence. 

That freedom primarily comes from the ability to not have to depend on public transport. For most women, the daily commute on a public bus or a micro can be a dreadful experience. It’s common knowledge that these vehicles are jam-packed. You have to push, shove and fight your way to find some free standing-space, if not a free seat. But for women, the fight doesn’t end there. 

Almost all the women that I talked to about the benefits of a scooter started with how they dreaded using a public vehicle. In the cramped quarters of a packed bus, they’ve had to deal with predators who have no qualms about getting a little too comfy with women’s bodies. Such incidents can be traumatising: some women have had to deal with men grabbing their breasts, and in some cases, their crotches. And getting groped is a regular occurrence. “I used to get groped almost two or three times a week,” says Shubhechchha Budhathoki, an MBA student at the Kathmandu University School of Management, who has to commute 17 km from Naikap to Balkumari every day. “These incidents freaked me out, and I started thinking it was better to be prepared.” 

Most women employ a number of defense strategies for the fight at hand. Some women have developed the habit of carrying their backpacks in front of them, to shield themselves from strangers’ stares and inappropriate advances. Today, when Budhathoki, who bought a scooter--a Hero Pleasure--some five years ago, has to take a bus, she has on hand toothpicks, and occasionally a pen, to ward off predators. I, myself, on more than one occasion, have had to use my heels to serve the same purpose. But although these methods provide a way out sometimes, they don’t offer a long-term solution to the madness--as a scooter does. 

Apart from providing a sense of security, scooters have also provided women the ability to more freely pursue their careers. For someone like me working in the media, a normal day’s schedule means I have to fit meetings with several people from several places, and work odd hours. With a scooter, that commute, which would have previously been a major concern, is now something that doesn’t even cross my mind. I no longer have to worry about getting home late at night, and that allows me to focus completely on my work, no matter how many hours I have to put in. 

“I couldn’t have imagined working two jobs,” says Ebita Tamrakar, a pharmacist, “without my scooter.” Some five years ago, she bought a Mahindra Rodeo so that she could get to Kathmandu University, in Dhulikhel, from her home, in Panauti, a distance which would on a bus easily take an hour. Today, her scooter helps Tamrakar, who now lives in Lalitpur with her relatives, keep her two jobs--one at CIWEC Hospital, Lainchaur, and the other as a pharmacologist lecturer at a college in Swayambhu.

Owing to her scooter, Tamrakar, like many other women, has more spare time for other activities. “My parents now don’t have to keep calling me to ask how or at what time I am going to get home when I’m out with friends,” she says. She can also be of help to her family, as she is taking care of her two siblings. She can go pick them up at schools, and in times of need, can take them to the hospital, all without bothering her relatives and family. “Being able to ride a scooter has been a big boost for my confidence, because not only am I independent, I also feel more useful.”

Today, parents have also become more open to the idea of their daughters’ getting a scooter. Murari Raj Kharel, whose daughter has to commute from Gwarko to Duwakot every day for work, is contemplating buying a scooter for his daughter. “A scooter is a great investment for a working woman,” he says. “For a purchase of under two lakhs for a new scooter, or even under one lakh for a used one, my daughter will be able to focus more and be more effective and efficient at her job, and won’t be as tired at the end of a day.” And in case Kharel’s daughter decides to move abroad for further studies in a few years, he can recoup a fair amount from the sale of the scooter. For his daughter, who is living away from her home in Hetauda, it would also mean that she can handle emergencies without having to depend on her parents. 

This change in parents’ attitudes about scooters is rather remarkable. When I first spoke to my parents, in Chitwan, about buying a scooter some five years ago, they were not at all convinced that I could handle a scooter in Kathmandu’s traffic. So when I had to attend high school in Lainchaur, moving from one apartment to another, each one a little closer to college, seemed like the only solution. But shifting places is not an option available to everyone, especially for women with their family in the same city. Also for women like Budhathoki who would like to move closer to their work or college, the rent amount in these prime real estate spaces are fairly expensive. And while moving does make things easier, it is only a temporary solution. 

When I graduated high school and had to attend college in Putalisadak, I used to save my lunch money so that I could occasionally save myself the hassle and get a taxi. I knew this couldn’t have gone on for too long, so my winter mornings that year were spent learning to ride a scooter and my days were spent convincing my parents to buy me one. 

But why not opt for a motorbike or a car? Although a fair alternative, a motorbike doesn’t provide the same versatility as a scooter. For one, unlike a scooter, a motorbike can’t be used by women on all occasions. A motorbike isn’t suitable to ride while wearing a skirt, a dress or a saree--anything apart from pants for that matter. A scooter is light enough for petite women like me to manoeuvre in the streets. The under-seat storage and the leg space is also a big help for lugging things around. And as for a car, it is not an affordable choice for many. 

With its affordability and ease of use, scooters are quickly becoming the preferred mode of transport for most Nepali women, and more men are opting for the same as well. This demand has also led to automobile companies introducing more and more new scooters in their product line. Most memorable marketing campaigns are targeted towards women, and most ad pitches focus on the freedom that the vehicle provides them. “A still more suitable tagline, which will resonate with women like me all over would be something like, ‘scooters give you wings’,” says Budhathoki.