August 03, 2020
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The Reserved Space

Revisiting the first Muslim woman in India to drive an autorickshaw for a living. Now she wants to be in the Guinness Book.

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The Reserved Space
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Four years ago, Sayeda Alavaya Jiffriya made history in the ancient trade city of Kozhikode when she became the first Muslim woman in India to drive an autorickshaw for a living. Today, she wants a place in the Guinness Book. "Why not," she asks, "I must be the world’s first Muslim woman to make a living by driving an autorickshaw for so many years without a break."

On the job, Jiffriya dresses conservatively. There’s been no opposition except from some relatives and a few clerics. Surprisingly, groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami have been supportive, even providing her parking space at the end of the day. They are also protective about her when she travels in tough areas. Jiffriya thinks that is how it should be. "The Quran doesn’t say a woman cannot earn her livelihood by driving an autorickshaw," she asserts. "Islam is the greatest religion in the world." Her daughter, Fathima Marphiya, a 21-year-old college student, declares, "My mother is a true hero. I’m so proud of her."

But life isn’t easy for Jiffriya. A divorcee, she earns barely enough to support herself and her daughter. Whatever she saves goes towards maintenance and repairs. Then what is the secret of her staying power? "I love to drive," she says. Her confidence is unmistakable. Despite working in male domains, she’s not bitter or disgruntled. On the contrary, she’s picked up skills that have given her life a new buoyancy. "I’m never nervous about what type of passenger I pick up. I know how to handle people without being angry or scared. I get my strength from my faith and have gained a lot of experience from my job," she explains.

Entering the Guinness Book is an important quest for her. "I want to leave some trace of my presence in the world," she says, "Nobody can take that achievement away from me."

The Reserved Space

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