A day after International Women’s Day, a clutch of young girls, men and women rode around Delhi’s Khan Market area to encourage women to take up cycling

The car parking area of Delhi’s Khan Market was throbbing with energy and infectious laughter. As curious onlookers peered out of cars and half-opened stores, a group of women bicyclists broke into banter about the routes to a bicycle ride that at once was meant to be a message. A day after the International Women’s Day — the journey for the 50-odd women, girls and men — was symbolic of making public space safe for women.

Spin Life, a Gurgaon-based organisation that specialises in conducting bicycle rides and training people in spinning — an indoor high energy cycling programme — joined hands with the NGO Jagori, to break barriers and encourage women to cycle in the city. Given the fact that incidents of crimes against women have been on the rise making cycling, specially by women, a daunting task, Spin Life decided to set a trend for cycling enthusiasts.

“Cycling is a great exercise and is so environment friendly. Everyone should give their cars some rest and cycle to good health and a cleaner environment,” said Gautam Verma, a fitness and spinning trainer and founder of Spin Life. Gautam and his friends organised bicycle rides to protest the attack on the Delhi-based comedian and tri-athlete Vasu Primlani last year, took part in a protest ride for Nirbhaya, the victim of the Delhi December 16 gangrape, and also to raise awareness for disabled women.

 Ela Ghose, in her early 50s, is a proficient rider and can easily do a stretch of 60 kms. A co-founder of Spin Life, Ela’s determination to beat the odds has made her a role model for many women cyclists. In between handing out T-shirts and managing the crowd for the ride, Ela takes time out to talk to a group of young girls, all gearing up for the ride. She gives them quick tips to complete the ride around Khan Market. “This is the first time that a number of young girls will be riding in Delhi. It’s a step towards empowerment, a time for change,” said Ela as the bright winter sun caught the twinkle in her eyes.

Pinky, a lanky eighteen-year-old from Madanpur Khader, a congested resettlement colony in Delhi, could not agree more. A tenth standard student with a dream in her eyes but afraid to move out alone, the stern warnings from parents and brothers ringing in her ear, Pinky’s life is a litany of struggle. But last year, with the help of Jagori, she enrolled for the Youth and Safety Project run by the NGO and learnt to ride a bicycle — the first step to freedom from fear. She rode on the streets of Delhi for the first time and could barely conceal her happiness. Pooja Anuragi, Pinky’s neighbour, sped alongside the youngest rider in the group, Sridhar (nine years) whose parents want him to understand very early in life that women need to be respected and are equal partners in change. Eyes lit with excitement after completing the designated route, Sridhar animatedly said, “I loved riding with so many people. There will be no pollution if everybody rode bicycles for few days in a week besides and a lot less accidents.”

 Jagori has been working in the five resettlement colonies of Madanpur Khader “to inform, empower and inspire women. Teaching young girls and women to ride a bicycle, among other things, is to instil the oft-lacking confidence and awaken them to their rights. So, partnering with Spin Life for this trendsetting ride was a natural choice. Geetha, a senior activist with Jagori, had brought ten school-going girls from the resettlement colonies for the ride and felt that it was an important statement on equality between men and women. “It’s always a struggle for women to ride in a city like Delhi and takes a lot of courage. More women should come out and ride, make it an every day event and debunk prejudices that only men ought to ride a bicycle. The message from women bicycle riders should ring loud and clear ‘yes we can and we will’,” said Geeta in the midst of loud cheering from the crowd.