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Women on wheels raise money for adivasi human rights

Go Mad cyclists

© Varsha Y/Go Mad

Two years ago, I wrote about the annual Go MAD (Make a Difference) cycle trip from Bangalore to Gudalur, to raise money for adivasi human rights and education work in the Nilgiris, South India. This year, too, the Go MAD cycle trip was successful. Interestingly, there were a lot more women this year, though not by design: 12 women and seven men. A particularly happy coincidence, since the trip was flagged off on 6 March and the group cycled through 8 March, inadvertently doing something really special on International Women’s Day.

It was also the first time a Gudalur adivasi girl, Nisha, was cycling. She had got on a bicycle for the very first time just one week before the trip. On Day One, she was trailing far behind. But thanks to Pranav, a nine-year-old cyclist, she had company. Pranav’s parents patiently kept to the same pace, so the four of them cycled together. Nisha was clueless about gears. But on Day Two, Varsha, an expert cyclist and truly lovely young woman, rode beside Nisha, teaching her to handle the gears. After that, there was no stopping her. She kept perfect pace with the group the rest of the way.

Everyone was proud of her determination and gave her a rousing ovation each evening for another day brilliantly done. When the cyclists reached the finishing line in Gudalur, the reception team cheered them in with much fanfare. Lakshmi, a senior adivasi nurse, said: ‘When the cycle trip was announced at the monthly all-team meeting, I thought to myself, “how come, though, we have more women in the team than men? Every year it’s only the men who cycle...” I realized it was because [women] did not know how to cycle and I never imagined we could learn. Then Nisha volunteered and learnt to cycle in a week, and what’s more, she cycled the whole distance from Bangalore. She is an inspiration for all of us women. Next year perhaps many more of us will cycle!’

The heart-warming tribute was echoed by many others. Nisha herself said: ‘When the idea came up, I impulsively said okay, I’ll do it. Then I thought, “am I mad? I don’t know anything about cycling!” But Nishita and Priya, two women colleagues, gave me courage and taught me to ride. First to balance, and then slowly they gave me courage to cycle on a main road with autorickshaws and buses speeding by. I gained in confidence gradually, but I didn’t learn how to use the gears. On the second day Varsha taught me, and then it was easy. I want to cycle next year, also!’ 

The fact that this year’s ride was unique – that there were far more women than men – both as cyclists and in the support team, gave the whole ride a very different flavour. The group was more connected, everyone was happier and more chilled out. No-one could quite explain why. Nishita, the key organizer, says: ‘In the debrief, everyone said, “Cyclists and support team really looked out for each other; everyone was so helpful.’ Krishna Panyam, who is a veteran cyclist and regular Go Mad groupie laughed, ‘Well, I’m not offering anything profound, but there was definitely a difference. There were women in the front, women behind and in the centre. Everywhere you looked. Someone even has pictures of women in the trees. A pretty unique trip, I would say.’ As someone else put it, ‘You GO girls! Proud of you!’

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