Pritami Das, a 31-year-old transgender person, says she feels empowered whenever she starts off her day on an electric autorickshaw ferrying passengers in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha state in eastern India.
"I was lucky to have been trained for a few months by the transport authorities and now I feel liberated and have a skill set that I know will get better in the coming months," Das told DW.
The e-autos, launched in July last year, provide comfortable and safe rides, and ensure last-mile connectivity to passengers in the city.
The initiative has allowed women and transgender people to break the glass ceiling in the mobility sector, traditionally an all-male bastion.
It has not only created employment opportunities but also promoted e-mobility, paving the way for a sustainable future.
"I have struggled a lot but now I am confident about myself. We don't have to drive in the night so that is good. I think the entire project has helped our community and given us purpose," Meera Patra, a transgender person, told DW.
Making transport system more inclusive
The Capital Region Urban Transport Company (CRUT), a local transport agency that runs the "Mo Bus" service, and the German development agency (GIZ) joined forces to implement the project.
"The technical cooperation with CRUT is an inspiring and highly successful journey that has attracted attention from all over the globe," Ernst Doering of GIZ India told DW.
"The testimonials of the beneficiaries, the female and transgender drivers, already show the positive impact on their daily lives in terms of income, self-esteem, and empowerment."
Dipti Mahapatro, general manager of CRUT, has been a key figure behind the initiative.
"The introduction of the electric transport service in Bhubaneswar has provided a unique opportunity for transgender individuals to find employment, gain economic independence, and create a positive impact on society," Mahapatro told DW.
Under the initiative, over 120 women, transgender persons and HIV survivors have so far been trained as e-rickshaw drivers.
The project aims to provide livelihood to marginalized and exploited sections of society.
Transgender people face prejudice and discrimination
Transgender individuals in India have long faced discrimination and social exclusion. They often encounter difficulties finding jobs, leaving many of them destitute.
In 2014, India's Supreme Court recognized non-binary or transgender persons as a "third gender," paving the way for millions of transgender people to attain legal status and better social protection.
Three years later, the court made an individual's sexual orientation an essential attribute of their privacy.
But despite the ruling and even after courts overturned a colonial-era law that had criminalized same-sex relationships, social prejudice persists.
The transgender community continues to face discrimination and rejection by their families. They're often denied jobs, education and health care.
"I think this initiative has proved to be a great opportunity for transgender persons and given the right impetus and encouragement. This could help them in a big way," Lokanath Misra, head of Aruna, an NGO working with sexual minorities and people living with HIV and AIDS, told DW.
"More such efforts need to be made to bring members of the community to mainstream society."
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru