“No, I will not say that I was passionate to work for this since my childhood. I will not lie about it. I was just a simple person working in the corporate sector. It was in 2013 that I met a filmmaker who was making a documentary on acid attack survivors. For nearly four months, I lived with the survivors. Being connected to them gave me an insight into their lives. Few of the survivors succumbed to the injuries as unfortunately, the medical care was expensive while few befriended the veil which left me bewildered,” says Rakesh Singh who rides for Gender freedom and pedals against acid attacks.
Acid attack, possibly the worst infliction on another human is not unheard of in India. It pained Rakesh that despite all the laws and protection, the situation has not changed much. And the fact that over 50% of the attacks were due to ‘love’. It was a matter of concern to see a person madly in love with a girl throwing acid on her. This was wrong. Something had to be done to change the mindset. He started looking for answers because without that the problem couldn’t be ascertained.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Rakesh says that when a child is born, a family celebrates according to the gender of the kid. If it is a boy, they rejoice and if it is a girl they blame the new mother.
“You see, there are many attacks that go unreported and women keep mum instead of talking about their ordeal. People have made everything gender based, but one should know that gender is not a big deal. Being a girl or boy is normal. People blame society. But they don’t realise that they make this society. The problem lies in our family values, in the ways we are raised, our cultures and traditions. A daughter is referred to as Lakshmi (goddess), maybe that’s why we have stopped considering her as human. There is hardly any woman who has not faced discrimination.”
The importance of family values and upbringing is turning hazy as we are imposing stereotypical thoughts in the name of values. Many people still don’t invest in the education of a girl but they invest in the dowry which will be given to her would be husband. A boy is raised like a prince in a family, bestowed with independence. This is a big pitfall in society.
Rakesh visits villages, colleges, schools, panchayats and leaves a lot of questions behind for his listeners to ponder. His talks are powerful enough to convince people to send their daughters to schools.
“There are so many flaws in us and we look outside for solutions. We shame a person even for the clothes they wear. Isn’t it funny how a piece of cloth conveys shame? The inner wear of a boy can be hanged outside on the rope, while girl’s inner wear are kept hidden so that nobody sees it. The boys are somehow given freedom to do whatever they want from a young age. They get used to not taking ‘no’ for an answer. And because of a few men who grew up like they are princes and can go about doing everything without repercussions, everyone gets a bad name. Not every man is a monster.”
“The Government launched Kanyadan (giving away the girl) schemes and Samuhik Vivah (group weddings) for people who cannot afford wedding expenses and gifts as dowry. If the government does that then how can we expect people to change?”
Rakesh cycles close to 20 km at a time and rests at the roadside tea stalls. People get intrigued and interrogate as they assume him to be some person advertising about political party. He first listens to all the questions people have and answers them one by one. He carries a portable mic and a video projector and shows them movies on women empowerment.
Rakesh is motivated to make a change and is actively working on the ground. His work is not time bound. He has mapped 17,000 km so far and has interacted with 4.5 lakh people. Hailing from Bihar, he started his journey from Chennai in Tamil Nadu and had covered Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh.
He plans to culminate his ride in his hometown Bihar in October 2018 at a youth festival which will preach gender equality.
Rakesh intends to continue this journey till then and is looking for volunteers and financial contributions. His Facebook page ‘Ride for Gender Freedom‘ is committed to working towards gender equality and building an inclusive environment.
– Photographer: Usha Titikshu