Though the historic decree allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia is widely welcomed as the emancipation of the fair sex, but it threatens to deprive tens of thousands of Non-Resident Indian (NRIs) drivers of their livelihood.
There are a between five to 14 lakh chauffeurs and taxi drivers in Saudi Arabia. The huge majority of them are from India, with Kerala the leading state.
Most of the Saudi families prefer Indian chauffeurs to drive women to shopping malls, workplaces, colleges and other places.
Attakkoya Pallikkandy, chairman of the Pravasi Coordination Committee of Kerala, told The Hindu, “When women are at the wheel, it means the majority of Saudi households will no longer need chauffeurs to drive women to shops, workplaces, colleges and schools.
He added, “Of course, the right to drive is a great achievement for Saudi women, but from the Indian perspective it is a big blow.”
He said, “At a time when hundreds of Indian workers are returning home every week in the wake of the Saudi government’s aggressive nationalisation (called Nitaqat) of the labour force, the new reform will accelerate the job loss of drivers.”
Indians make up the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia and, among Indians, Keralites are the largest group.
Hassan Koya, former news editor of the Jeddah-based Malayalam News daily, said, “Public transportation is poor in the wealthy kingdom. Since women earlier, were not allowed to drive, they have to depend on chauffeurs and taxi drivers. Better-off Saudi households employ permanent house drivers who take homemakers to shopping malls, girl students to universities and schools and working women to their offices.”
He also observed that working women spend a sizeable chunk of their salaries on chauffeurs.
Another bad news for Indians is that as more and more educated Saudi women will join the white-collar work force, they will replace Indian expatriate employees, executives and professionals.
As the empowered Saudi women drive into the workplace, a section of the expatriate workers will be driven out.