NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 33

Scooty, the joy of being self-dependent

Aleena Farooq, a BS 2nd year student at Punjab University, says she has never faced any harassment at the hands of other bikers or drivers while riding her scooty in the past six years. She drives her scooty, a name given to the smaller version of scooters especially designed by automobile companies for female riders, almost daily from her home in Gulshan-e-Ravi of Lahore to Punjab University Quaid-e-Azam Campus, generally known as New Campus. On the way, she drops off her younger sister at a private college on Wahdat Road.

“Sometimes some young bikers throw a challenge at me for a race, but I never respond, except for smiling at them. But they can’t even see that I am smiling at them, as I always use a helmet,” she tells the writer with a broad smile on her face.

Aleena’s father, Muhammad Farooq, decided to buy a scooty for his daughter around six years ago when she was only a ninth grader, though the mother had opposed the idea with full force. Then Aleena and her younger sister were studying at a private school on Wahdat Road, and their pick up and drop off had become a pestering issue for the family. Muhammad Farooq, the only male member of the family, used to leave his home at 8:30am and return at almost 10pm, after doing a full-time and a part-time job. Hiring an auto-rickshaw on a monthly basis was too costly to afford, besides other issues. Even if hired for a whole month, the driver would call at least once a week that his rickshaw had developed some fault, or a tyre had flattened, and hence no chance of the facility on that particular day.

Fed up with the unprofessional attitude of rickshaw drivers and himself finding little time to provide the facility to his daughters, he had been looking for a dependable alternative for a long time. One fine morning, seeing a girl riding a scooty on Jail Road gave him an idea. In the evening, the family discussed buying a scooty for the girls. Aleena was overjoyed with the idea, her little sister very excited, but the mother seemed really worried. She opposed the plan tooth and nail, but Muhammad Farooq had already reached a decision. He knew his elder daughter and had full confidence in her that she could do that, being a healthy child.

After that day, Aleena has not only been attending her school, college and university on her own, but is also providing the facility to her younger sister. The issue of going to market for shopping, without engaging their father, has also been solved.

Aleena says she seldom faced staring by people, as it has become a common sight in Lahore. People have accepted girls, and even women, riding a scooty, and sometimes motorcycles also, as a necessity of changing times. Therefore, they not only avoid creating any trouble for female bikers, but also facilitate them in times of need. “At least thrice in the last few years, I was helped out by males when my scooty got punctured on the way. Seeing me dragging my scooty, men offered me help to take it to the repair shop,” she recalls. “Times have changed a lot now. You yourself go for it, or ask your female family members to ride a scooty on Lahore roads and enjoy it. There’s nothing to worry about,” the university student tells this scribe in a cheerful voice.

The pleasant experience is not limited to Aleena Farooq. In fact, motorcycles and scooties are becoming popular among women for being affordable and offering speedy mobility for their routine work. Working women and students can be seen riding the two-wheelers in almost all cities and towns. Though unheard of 15 years ago, women on bikes are fast becoming a norm.

Zubaida Bilala, who rides her 70cc scooter to work at a bank branch in Rawalpindi, says it has nothing to do with feminism or liberalism or women empowerment. “We are simple working women, who leave their homes to earn and come back on this two-wheeler that has rid us of waiting for a bus at stops in rain and sweltering heat,” she says.

The two-wheeler riding trend among women is gaining momentum, as it is the most convenient and cheaper means of transport, says a motorbike dealer in the Lahore Hotel area, where motorbike selling shops are situated in a large number. Owing to the rise in the cost of living and runaway inflation, more and more women are entering the workforce, for which they need cheaper and easier ways of transportation. Mobility is a major issue for women who step out of their homes and scooty is easy to buy and the need of the hour, he adds.

The dealer says scooties have specially been designed for females, which are lighter than the regular 70cc motorbikes. In the past years, the Punjab government had also introduced the ‘Women on Wheels’ initiative, but the trend is yet to gain mass popularity like in Indonesia and Malaysia, the South East Asian Muslim countries where it is common to see women going to college or university on scooties and bikes wearing their hijab.

However, scooters are here to stay in Pakistan. Another student, Huma Ameer, says that when she bought the two-wheeler, she was hesitant to ride it. “But now, I am enjoying it due to its ease and affordability. Whenever my mother has to go to the bank or shopping, we just hop on it and scoot away without any fear,” she shares her experience. During rush hours, instead of moaning and groaning in a packed van, my scooty glides through the logjam and saves time, she added.