Vasanthakumari started driving at the age of 14 when she was not even old enough to get a licence. At that time, she did it for the thrill she got out of it and did not know that her it would help her feed and support her family years later. She became a driver with Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation in 1993 and is said to be the first woman driver in India and probably in Asia too.
Even today, women, in general, do not prefer travelling to work in a bus if they can find other means of transport as they feel more vulnerable to sexual harassment. But Vasanthakumari triumphed against all odds to take up a profession that was chosen only by a handful of women globally.
Vasanthakumari lost her mother when she was a toddler and her father remarried forcing her to grow up with an aunt. Talking about her early years in an interview to The Hindu, she said,
At the age of 19, I was married off to a widower with four daughters. My husband worked on a construction site and his income was not enough to support all of us.
After having two kids, she joined a Mahila Mandram in her hometown Kanyakumari where people, who knew of her driving skills, suggested to her to apply for a job as a driver. She immediately got a heavy vehicle license not realising that it was a profession largely reserved for men.
Although she was turned down a lot of times, she did not give up. In the process, she met late J Jayalalitha, who was then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. According to The Times of India, she said,
I told her that I wanted to drive a bus. She was excited by the idea and asked the transport ministry officials to conduct an interview and forward the file to the CM’s office.
Despite being the first woman driver in TNSTC, she did not get or expect any special concession. Until she retired two months back, she was driving along the same route as her male counterparts.
For taking up something that most women did not even think was possible at that time, she received the Woman Achiever Award last year in Chennai. And she does not want to give up driving even though she retired two months back. Her plan is to start a driving school for women.