For more than a year after they were distributed by Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) to the girls of the Muslim-dominated suburb of Mumbra, most of the pink bicycles were gathering dust. A well-intentioned initiative had remained just a token measure in the conservative Mumbra area, where young girls are seldom seen venturing out on bicycles, an act that could earn them parental wrath or societal frown.
As a result, some were used by brothers or fathers, while some were even sold off or rented out. “Ever since the distribution of these cycles we started seeing men and young boys riding pink cycles,” laughs Sabah Khan of Parcham, the not-for-profit group that the girls came together to form.
This, till the motley group of girls marched into the TMC office, stating their intention: permission to teach the girls how to ride bicycles. A few weeks, innumerable lessons and an equal number of falls and stumbles later, the girls are all set to do the unthinkable: on Friday, nearly 120 girls will take out a cycle rally on the streets of Mumbra. The rally will be flagged off by TMC chief Aseem Gupta and local legislator and former minister Jitendra Awhad.
After the TMC approved the effort, the girls approached principals of two civic-run schools in Mumbra, who in turn convened a meeting of parents of all girls. “That’s when a lot of parents criticised us for the effort and asked us why they should take the effort of sending their girls in cycles,” said Muskaan.
A diktat from the principals meant that most parents agreed and as a result, the four girls found themselves training more than 200 girls to ride bicycles. Training all these girls wasn’t easy, especially due to societal concerns. “While we would practise, guys on motorbikes would try and intimidate us. Hence, the girls waiting for their turn started forming a human chain around those taking lessons,” said Khan.
The girls spent nearly Rs 5,000 in fixing the cycles.
Come Friday, most of these girls will, for the first time, ride cycles on the streets. “The idea is that women must reclaim public spaces. This will ensure that women realise they have an equal share in public spaces,” said Khan.
The young girls have also taught an important lesson to policy makers in ensuring that policies don't remain on paper and are adjusted to local conditions.
HT had reported in June how these girls formed an all-girls’ football team and got the civic body to reserve a ground for practice. The teenagers later formed Parcham. “It was during our practice that we noticed how many girls couldn’t come to the ground, even though they had cycles. It kept bothering us,” said Muskaan.