But things were not the same when she first started driving auto-rickshaw, eight years ago.
While talking to TBI, she shared how people humiliated her for showing courage to support her kids out of poverty. This financial stress pushed Laibi under extreme stress.
But, rather than letting it break her, she turned it into the source of motivation. She became Manipur’s first woman autorickshaw driver.
Remembering the early days, Laibi says:
“People once laughed at me, taunted and called me names. I felt humiliated. But I had little choice.”
Married to an abusive and alcoholic husband, life was never easy for Laibi.
Even though she worked day & night at a brick kiln for meager wages, the family of four, including two young sons could hardly manage to meet both ends. But things took an ugly turn when her husband was diagnosed with severe diabetes and was prescribed complete bed rest.
At that time, Laibi was left with no other choice but to gather the courage to become the sole breadwinner for the family.
The couple bought a second-hand auto-rickshaw and rented it out. But after two years and five irresponsible drivers, they decided that renting it out was a bad decision. Manipur’s economic blockade around 2011-12, complicated the situation further for Laibi and her family.
Because of severe distress, her sons had to drop out of school. The situation was so bad that on some days, she skipped her meals to feed them.
The desperate and helpless mom couldn’t see her sons struggling and she took a step, that was unheard of.
She decided to drive the autorickshaw on her own.
But rather than applauding her courage many ridiculed her with abusive words. Everyone ‘advised’ her to quit being an autorickshaw driver and do some ‘womanly’ work.
In a disheartening incident, Laibi shared how society was not ready to accept her new profession. While sharing how the traffic police would stop her auto and unnecessarily penalize her, she mentioned:
“At one time, when I skipped a signal to get some passengers, they thrashed my auto and in turn hit me as well,”
It wasn’t just society, who was penalizing her. Even her own family was not ready to support this brave woman. Her sons felt humiliated and resentful of the fact that their mother was an auto driver. And her alcoholic husband used to often abuse and harass her in a drunken state.
But no one could break the spirit of this daunting and persistent mom. Laibi refused to give up. While recalling what made her kept pushing forward, she shared:
“I had only one vision—to bring up my two sons with proper education.”
Finally, things changed for better
An accidental meeting with filmmaker Meena Longjam in 2011 gave Laibi’s life the recognition that it always deserved. On Liabi’s life, she created a heart-touching documentary ‘Auto Driver’, which won a National Award in the non-feature category in 2015.
And with the documentary came the acceptance from the society that this woman in fifties always deserved.
Her documentary created headlines all over the country and people started recognizing and respecting her. With that her earnings also peaked and she managed to buy a brand new auto for herself and also avail a housing loan.
“The people who once taunted and mocked me, now show immense respect and empathy towards me. Even the traffic police greet me with a ‘salaam’ every day.
But the best part is that my sons are no longer resentful. They are happy individuals who cannot wait to grow up and start their careers so that their mother can finally retire.”
You can’t stop applauding the courage and determination of this mom for giving her kids a brighter future.
Laibi’s elder son is pursuing his graduation and aspires to be an IAS officer, and her younger son has recently joined a prestigious football academy.
At I FOR HER, we want to ask our society do you still think women are weak and helpless.
To the readers of I FOR HER, we request you to recognize and encourage all those women who are shattering the social norms to earn a better life for self and their family.