At a time when news of ambulance drivers refusing to carry Covid-19 patients and charging exorbitant rates from families are common, a 48-year-old woman e-rickshaw driver in north Bengal has been braving all odds and ferrying such patients to hospitals for free.
Munmun Sarkar, the first woman e-rickshaw driver of Siliguri in Darjeeling district, who now heads the association of women e-rickshaw drivers in the town. She is lovingly called ‘Muniya Didi’ by all.
“Initially when I started ferrying Covid-19 patients, even the local councillor asked me to stop while neighbours tried to ostracize me and my family. But I was determined and my family members supported me throughout. They were ready to face the consequences,” she said.
Sarkar started driving the e-rickshaw, popularly known as Toto, almost six and half years ago. She also delivers food and other relief materials to those in need. Her family members including her husband Ananda Sarkar, son Subhankar who works in the State Bank of India, daughter Suparna Poddar have been a support throughout.
“I was ready to face all consequences to support the work of my wife even if that meant staying out on the roads,” said Ananda Sarkar, her husband.
A resident of Shaktigarh area, Munmun who could not pass class 12, was always into social service and wanted to empower women folks. That’s why she started driving an e-rickshaw and set an example for other women. There are now 118 women Toto drivers in Siliguri town.
Stating that money was never an attraction for her, she said that when the pandemic started, she stopped ferrying normal passengers and started carrying only Covid-19 patients to hospitals and those who have been released from hospitals back to their homes.
“Till date I have carried a few hundred Covid-19 patients. So far only one has died,” she said.
Her work has won her accolades and she has been felicitated by many organistions including Siliguri Journalists’ Club.
“Munmun didi has done an exemplary work, fearlessly attending Covid-19 patients at a time when most others fear to go near such patients,” said Anirban Roy a dental surgeon who is the first plasma donor of North Bengal and a nodal person of Covid Care Network – a voluntary organization.
She always puts on PPE and the driver’s seat of her Toto is covered with a plastic sheet. But Sarkar said that she never bought any PPE.
“I never bought any PPE. Various organisations gift them to me to provide me support. I just make sure that I regularly sanitise the vehicle. That cuts deep into my pocket,” she said.