Perhaps because driving heavy vehicles became a way to solve many problems in life, Deepa Joseph trusts buses and ambulances more than humans. They wouldnâ€™t let her down the way people have, says the survivor of domestic abuse, who had little support to get out of her first marriage. Eventually though, she did, and rebuilt her life with her kids. As she speaks to TNM on December 13, Deepa is on her way to Kozhikode from Thiruvananthapuram, after receiving yet another recognition for being one of the few women ambulance drivers from Kerala. This was the Padmini Varkey award, coming a few months after her felicitation as one of the 101 women the Kerala government was honouring for their campaign on gender equality, Samam.
â€śI have always loved to drive, even as a child. But heavy vehicles came to me at a time when I was alone with my two children. It became a means to earn a living,â€ť says Deepa, who got her license for driving heavy vehicles in 2016. Before that, she had worked in various capacities in restaurants in Kozhikode, where she hails from.
Later, Deepa worked in a marble showroom where she began taking their vehicle to carry goods when the driver was absent. â€śAround that time, I heard that a college in my hometown of Nadapuram â€“ Puliyavu National Arts and Science College â€“ needed a bus driver. I went for a trial and they liked how I drove; I got the job. It was fun driving around the girls of the college,â€ť Deepa says.
Deepa Joseph, one of the few female ambulance drivers in the state. pic.twitter.com/RqTM8LPPKlâ€” Cris (@cristweets) December 15, 2021
In the early days, sheâ€™d sometimes come across male drivers who would not give her space on the road and would overtake her from all the wrong sides. After giving way the first few times, Deepa decided it would not do, and showed her control over the bus. â€śOnce I became a familiar face among other drivers on the road, they all became friendly and supportive,â€ť she says.
But she had to take a break from bus-driving when COVID-19 struck and all the colleges were closed. â€śThatâ€™s the time I came to know about a private ambulance service looking for a driver. I had tried for the governmentâ€™s 108 ambulances but I didnâ€™t get an opportunity to drive one. I am not sure if it is because they had apprehensions because I am a woman and people [needing ambulance services] may not trust me,â€ť she says.
There have been occasions when certain families showed reluctance seeing a woman behind the wheel. â€śDuring one of those occasions, a security guard told them that no one else would be more reliable to take the patient to the hospital at the right time. Then they trusted me,â€ť Deepa says.
Deepa receives the Padmini Varkey award
In the one and half years of driving an ambulance, there has never been a death inside her vehicle, Deepa says. But she has seen all sorts of reactions when she has had to take a COVID-19 patient in her ambulance. â€śSome families are overcome with emotion, while others have been too scared to even accompany the patients to the hospital. On one occasion when a patient needed surgery at the hospital, the relatives were not present to sign the consent form. I called them up. When we realised that they might take a while to reach there, I signed [the consent form] as the patientâ€™s relative so the surgery takes place in time. The relatives were very thankful,â€ť Deepa says.
Over the past year, Deepa also contracted COVID-19 thrice. However, every time she recovered, her quiet commitment hasnâ€™t wavered and she continues to drive her ambulance to people who need it.