Women in India are taking their freedom to the streets, on two.
For some, it is a way to escape harassment on public transportation, but for all, it is the freedom and sense of community that compels them to keep on riding.
“Taking the wheel is a man’s job,” says 30-year-old motorcycle enthusiast and women’s rights activist Anika Verma. “The moment a woman does it—being on the road, riding a bike or a car or anything—is a rebellion. That’s what gives us a kick, most women drivers.” Unlike a scooter, the more socially acceptable ‘women’s ride’, a woman riding a motorcycle in India is a message of strength and rebellion.
India has a population of over 1.3 billion, roughly 19 million of whom live in New Delhi. It’s a place where rural citizens converge to find opportunity. It has also become one of the most dangerous cities for women in the world. Add to that the traffic congestion and you have two very compelling reasons for Indian women to push back against conventional gender roles and get on a motorcycle.
The Bikerni is a pan-India women’s bike organization formed in 2011 to unite female riders across the country. The Delhi Bikerni, featured in Episode 2 of Christiane Amanpour’s Netflix series Sex & Love Around The World, explain that it had everything to do with building confidence and giving women the freedom to explore the world on their own terms. Club member “Gypsy” laughed as she mimed a throttle rev and claimed the cliché, “It’s my way or the highway.”
The Delhi Bikerni is still relatively small compared to the overall population—to date about 60 members in the city and 500 across the country—but the message it sends is mighty. For them and the 4,000 women riders in India that count themselves among members of a club, it has more to do with claiming the space. It’s also a place from which to organize activism, such as the 2016 city-wide women’s motorbike ride through Delhi, organized by the human rights NGO “Breakthrough India” to reclaim women’s rights on the streets.
Women on motorcycles attract plenty of attention, but that’s not always a bad thing. Anika Verma is happy to flip hecklers her single finger salute, she finds it empowering to be able to race off on her more powerful machine. Fellow female rider and doctor Leena Biswas wants to celebrate the positive in a different way. When jeers are replaced by cheers, says Biswas, “That is a moment of pride for me. Not pride because I’m riding a bike. Pride because my India is changing.”
It’s always amazing what riding a motorcycle can do.