What does a cycle have to do with the lives of rural women of Bundelkhand? What role does a cycle play in their lives? Since the Higher Secondary Schools are far away from the villages, the government has a policy to allocate cycles to some girls who are in that phase of education. Are these cycles actually being used by these girls? Many families in these villages have at least one cycle per family. But due to strict gender norms many girls are restricted from using these cycles. However, are women and girls able to surpass these norms and ride cycles?
We had the experience of talking to the staff members of two feminist organizations – Sahajani Siksha Kendra, Lalitpur and Vanangana, Chitrakoot – both in Uttar Pradesh on the experiences of cycle in their lives. The 16 participants shared their own stories of struggle, resistance and desire around the bicycle and brought out stories of other women to life through role plays. These stories were heart-rending and they brought out issues related to gender, caste, violence, discrimination in the lives of these women.
One theme that ran across these narrations was the desire to ride a cycle. This was exemplified when 13 out of these 16 women shared how while growing up they learnt to ride the cycle despite resistance from their families. While some of them had the freedom to ride their cycles, others had to struggle and strategize to do so.
Along with stories of resistance, there were also stories of violence. One participant shared how she has been verbally abused by men many a times while riding back home. She knew that if she reported these to her family, she will be stopped from riding the cycle all alone. There were stories of girls being beaten up because of their desire to ride the cycle. A desire as simple as riding the cycle can lead to so much discrimination and violence is unimaginable. The mobility associated with riding the cycle makes many parents anxious. This anxiety regarding girls’ sexuality also acts as a barrier in allowing them to use the cycle even for school, let alone for personal use.
Violence is one side of the coin; the other side is about romance, friendships and desire. The participants narrated stories of romance about what happened in their villages when girls went to meet their lovers on a cycle or how one couple eloped on a cycle. One participant shared how one day after parking her cycle in the sun, when she sat on it, she could feel the heat up on her vagina. Another shared how riding on bumpy roads tickles her – a feeling of gudgudi – a pleasant sensation in her vagina and her body. Nirantar while conducting workshops on sexuality earlier had heard stories of women masturbating on cycles.
We asked them to draw their fantasies. They spoke about going out on a world tour, making out on cycles, their cycles having wings, cycles with protection against assault, and many more. They shared stories about where they would like to go with the cycle, with whom and how; like going out with husbands and friends to restaurants, going out with their partners on a world tour, roaming around with friends, going for films, making out on the cycle, listening to music with earphones, wearing pant shirt and ridding etc. There was also a mention of same sex desire in their fantasy stories.
The participants shared their suggestions for the policy makers too. Many girls on whose names cycles are given out are not allowed by their family members to use those cycles. They shared the usefulness of a cycle especially in the context of sexual abuse and harassment which they face regularly in public transportation which they need to use to travel many kilometers to reach their work place. The cycle proves to be a safe mode of transportation and thus serves a very important function in their lives.
Cycles are an intrinsic part of their lives. Despite the violence and discrimination that they face they know that cycles provide them the mobility and freedom to enjoy things that are not permitted to them otherwise. We published these stories in our Calendar for the year 2015 as ‘Cycle in my Memories’. A few of those are mentioned below:
- Kusum is now 30 something. She recollects an incident when during her younger days, like many others, she could ride a cycle using the ‘kenchi’ technique. One day she decided to ride the cycle like an adult. While she managed to sit on the seat she was unable to get off it. She knew that to get off she had to fall down. She drove round and round and finally drove away from her home to escape the embarrassment of being seen falling from the cycle.
- Laxmi loved riding the cycle. However, like many other girls, her family could not afford a cycle for her. There was only one cycle in the house and the men and boys of the house were given preference. Her father used to go to the field for work. It was the duty of the children of the house to go and deliver food to their father. While her brother asked for Rs. 10 per delivery she wanted only Rs. 2. She used this money to rent a cycle for the day, every day, from someone in the village to go to the market, to deliver food, to go out with her friends and to go to the school.
- Rama’s desire to ride the cycle made many men angry in her family. To the extent that one day she was beaten up with an electric wire.
- Parvati works in an organization and her husband is a teacher. They would ride to work together. Sometimes when Parvati starts peddling the cycle faster, her husband would ride faster to come near her. Her husband is so romantic, that one day he punctured her cycle so that they could travel to work together.