Society

These women on the Trans Himalayan Cycling Tour are riding through ‘what will people say’

Sabita Mahto and Shruti Rawat are on the Trans Himalayan Cycling Tour for the One Billion Rising campaign   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Some time in March, feminist-activist Kamla Bhasin posted a Facebook message saying she had bought a cycle in time for her 75th birthday.

She was looking for women her age to bike, and the group would be called Cycling Feminist Aunties in their Seventies. She also asked Hero Cycles to start a brand called Shero Cycles, which led to the message getting shared around social media, with over 400 comments just on her post.

“It was a joke,” she says, though she does take her new cycle out for a spin around her colony. “My real inspiration to even buy a cycle was two young women who are cycling 56,000 kilometres for the One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign,” says Kamla, who is the South Asia coordinator for the worldwide campaign to end violence against women.

Riding through mountains

On February 2, Sabita Mahto, 24, and Shruti Rawat, 21, began the Trans Himalayan Cycling Tour to go across eight states and Nepal — 5,800 kilometres in 85 days. The idea was to stop along the way and speak to school students about gender equality and the environment, in keeping with this year’s OBR theme: rising gardens.

Sabita has cycled solo across India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka before; Shruti has not. “Shruti was my student during an MTB course organised by the Uttarakhand Government,” says Sabita, who has spent six years as a mountaineer, three as a cyclist.

Shruti, who has graduated and now works with the Kartavya Foundation, says she joined the course on a whim, but later when Sabita told her about the expedition, she really wanted to take part. “The longest I had ridden was 43 kilometres, and I am not a sportsperson,” she says, adding that it was tough initially, but Sabita motivated her to stay on course.

Staying the cycling course

Right now the girls are in Assam, having done 68 days. They will finish in Arunachal Pradesh, though they don’t have a clear plan of where their final halt will be. While OBR provided Sabita with a Trek bicycle, the Uttarakhand Government gave Shruti a Merida.

For Sabita, getting to this point has been difficult. The daughter of fisherfolk from Bihar, who later moved to Kolkata, she fought hard to avoid marriage after Class XII. She had already given up sport after Class X because of the shorts that were worn, since her parents always worried about: “Log kya kahenge? (What will people say?).”

Her brother and brother-in-law helped convince her father to send her for training to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. On her solo trips, often without funding, she has slept in police stations, in hotels, gurudwaras, mandirs, and churches. “My idea of getting Shruti involved was to build a chain of empowerment,” she says. Shruti found it easier to convince her family about what she wanted to do.

On the road, the tough parts are only the cycling that stretches to eight hours a day, the rough terrain, and the rapidly changing weather. They stop at hotels and eat a big meal at night, and start out between 7 am and 7.30 am. They have never had an untoward incident, with people only encouraging them along the way. “When we are at home we are told the world is bad, but the world is not. For every one or two bad people, there are a 100 good people. Don’t just sit at home and assume that everyone is bad,” says Shruti.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 9:43:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/the-women-cycling-for-one-billion-rising/article34355482.ece

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