Way back in 1910, when elephants were more common on the streets of India than motorcars, the Maharani of Bhavnagar took the Maharaja out for a spin in their new car. This spin signified the independence the Maharani enjoyed, which was rather rare for women in those times.
Would it surprise you to know that it was a woman, Mary Anderson, who invented the first windshield wiper? Well, it shouldn’t. Women have been associated with cars ever since they were invented.
The First Drive
Bertha Benz, the significant other, in business and life, of Karl Benz was the first to drive a car without permission from authorities (since no motored vehicles were used back then) to take her children to visit their grandmother. This 106 km trip, undertaken in 1888, was a historical milestone, and it demonstrated for the first time that a motor vehicle can be driven for a considerable distance. She, for all sense and purpose, put cars where they are today. The journey was an epic one and has been translated into celluloid as well. While there were hurdles along the way, she successfully overcame them all. Case in point is that this journey of hers included the impromptu invention of brake pads!
Landmarks in History
Association of Indian women with the automobile industry dates back to 1905, when Suzanne R.D. Tata became the first women in India to drive a car. Despite transport being a predominantly male dominated industry, the train and auto rickshaw services have seen a majority of women getting behind the wheel. Surekha Yadav was the first Indian woman to drive a railway train in India and in 1988, Shila Dawre became the first female auto rickshaw driver.
Women Take to Racing
It was not long before cars became crucial to human mobility and progress. One of the best ways of gauging the growth of the car industry was through car races. Fascinated by racing since her childhood, Alisha Abdullah became India’s first female national racing champion. A professional in go-karting, she turned to Formula Car Racing at the age of just 15. Actress Gul Panag also became India’s first woman to drive a Formula E race car!
21st Century & Women in the Automotive Industry
Women have always found a place behind the wheel. It is, however, only recently that they have finally come into their own when it comes to actual ownership of cars. More and more women today are obtaining driving licenses. About 25-30% of the workforce in the automobile industry are women. The recent surge of women in the automobile industry just goes to show the long history, affiliation, and affinity that women have for cars.
Today on the streets, every woman behind the wheel of her car is a ‘Maharani’ in her own right, except that the independence is no longer rare.