Cycling enthusiasts Sumeet Paringe (27) and Prisiliya Madan (22) recently bicycled their way through the length of the country to spread awareness about educating girl children. Starting at Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, they rode to Khardung La Pass in Jammu & Kashmir, covering a distance of almost 4,400 kilometres in a little less than three months. Talking to The Hindu , the Mumbai-based cyclists said they received tremendous support from every region of the country they visited.
The genesis of the expedition was the time they were shown the statistics of educated girl child in India. Mr. Paringe said, “In some States the percentage was below 30; it was very striking.” Deeply disturbed by the statistics, they hit on the idea of cycling the length of the country to draw attention to the cause.
Setting out on July 14, they completed their journey on September 23. On their way, they encountered all the clichéd sights and sounds of an India road trip — extremes of weather, motorists driving on the wrong side of the road and refusing to yield space to them, city streets riddled with traffic, rural roads with livestock wandering across the path — but they also saw first-hand the abject poverty so many Indians live in, declarations of digital empowerment notwithstanding.
They say that they saw families across the country, in villages and cities, willing to educate their children but lacking the means to ensure it. They found some of their own beliefs upturned. For instance, they realised that people in rural regions were just as interested in their children’s education as their urban counterparts. And that while the southern India has higher literacy figures, they met families in the north where all the members of the family, including the children, are striving to make ends meet and also get an education.
The duo visited schools on their route; some welcomed their requests to give guest lectures, others were sceptical about their attempts. “It is understandable that with the fixed time-tables and busy schedules that schools have they would not be able to accommodate us,” Mr. Paringe said, “however, the approach of wanting to let things go the way they are going without attempting any changes that needs to be changed.”
On whether they feel they have accomplished anything with their ride, the duo said that while initiatives like theirs do bring attention to the cause, the lack of basic facilities, and encouraging education schemes means that achieving full literacy is a distant goal.
The bamboo ride
An interesting sidelight of the expedition is the bamboo bicycles they used. Provided by Godrej & Boyce, the bikes are made with a type of bamboo the company grows near its Pune factory. The expedition gave the company a way to testing their performance in rough conditions before it rolls them out commercially. Speaking to The Hindu , Executive Director Vijay Crishna said while the bikes performed well, the company would make more changes based on the inputs they received. The bicycles are one of a range of potential bamboo products, including an e-cycle and motor-rickshaws for rural transport.
The approach of letting things go the way they are without attempting changes needs to be changedSumeet Paringe