Not all heroes wear royal capes. Some wear PPE suits. And here, we’re talking about a real-life heroine, the first woman toto ( e-rickshaw) driver of Siliguri, who is now ferrying COVID-19 patients for free. On realizing the plight of the infected patients, 48-year old Munmun Sarkar came to the decision of offering free rides to them. She is also delivering medicines, groceries and other essentials to the patients in home quarantine. Reportedly, Munmun has already ferried over 100 patients till date. She wears a PPE suit and keeps a thermal testing gun in her vehicle.
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.
She added, “I realised many were not in a position to pay at a time like this amid all their expense and stress. That is why I decided not to charge fares from any passenger who is infected or has just been cured.” She spends ₹3000 a day on sanitising her vehicle. She sanitises her toto twice a day. Also, every passenger gets sanitised before boarding her vehicle.
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.
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.
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.
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