Kanyakumari to Kashmir on foot

12-10-2017

Thirty-year-old Srishti Bakshi was on the evening bus back home in Central Hong Kong sometime last August when she read a news item about a mother-daughter duo gang-raped in India’s Bulandshahar district. “It made me think that women are not spared even when they move as a family unit. I spoke to my family and friends and they all said the incident was painful but nothing can be done as rape is common in India. I realised this is an issue staring at us and denying it is insane. I wanted to direct my power and knowledge into doing something about it. And that’s how I decided to walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir highlighting the issue of women safety and empowerment,” shares Srishti Bakshi with Metroplus after reaching Madurai, having clocked 260 kms in 15 days on foot from Kanyakumari.

Bakshi has named it the CrossBow movement and aims to meet men and women of different strata across 12 states in India while covering the distance of her mission. “This is not just an awareness builder. Everyone knows about growing violence against women. But there’s only too much noise and no action. CrossBow is an action-oriented initiative, where we interact with diverse audiences on multiple problems concerning women,” she says, adding she is focussing on financial and digital literacy. “I believe technology can be a sustainable and long-term solution for a lot of issues that women face,” she says.

 

Before starting the walk, Srishti read up case studies and research material and enrolled in the Champion for Change programme by Empower Women initiative of the UN Women. “I came across inspiring stories of how average Indian women have tasted success through technology. About a Bengali housemaid in Hong Kong who after consuming over 40,000 baking videos on YouTube is now a sought-after cake expert. About another woman from rural Tamil Nadu who after selling local fabrics through Whatsapp has recently opened a shop. Likewise, easy access to technology and internet can make a difference in the lives of women. These are stories that I show or talk about to the audience so that they relate and identify with these change makers easily.”

“Wherever we go, we leave behind a seed of thought in the minds of the women for them to pursue. We call them Arrows by CrossBow, as arrows only move forward,” says Bakshi. “Information is empowerment and the window of a phone or a computer pours out information.” Bakshi feels education doesn’t really translate into empowerment. “Tamil Nadu has high percentage of women literacy, but how many girls are allowed to pursue a career? On my walk from Kanyakumari to Madurai, I have met over 1,000 women of different age groups and I understand that the degree they obtain is used only as matrimonial qualification.”

As the daughter of an Army officer, Bakshi says she had an average middle-class upbringing and faced issues that any Indian woman does daily. “I have been groped at in the crowd, hurled abuses at and harassed at workplaces. But I was determined to fight and make myself better in terms of career and earning. I did business studies, joined the corporate world, earned well and travelled aboad,” she says. “But for many working women in India, their finances are still managed by their husbands. We tell them to learn banking systems and handle the money themselves.”

Change has to start from home, says Bakshi. “I have been meeting mothers, asking them not to treat their daughters and sons differently. The restrictions at home is the first hurdle to be cleared. Dowry again is an undercurrent in the family. It’s the mom-in-law who asks for dowry and it’s a vicious cycle that women perpetrate against their own kind.”

“I have several workshops planned ahead during my walk. My father has done the route planning and on an average I cover 20 to 30 kms everyday,” says Bakshi, who has been preparing herself for the strenuous task for the past one year. “I trained myself in weight lifting, starting with 15kgs and now I can lift 100 kgs. My focus was on muscle repair so that my core is strong to reboot even after long distances of walking. My reason for choosing to walk is because India is a country that primarily walks. Exercise means walking and in rural areas, people continue to walk to work. I feel to be on foot is the best way to connect with the common Indian.”

Step by Step:

You may donate your steps to Bakshi’s cause. Download the CrossBowMiles app from Google Play Store and register yourself. You may choose to walk around in your neighbourhood while keeping the app on, so that for as many steps you take, you unravel a gift for a rural or underprivileged girl child somewhere. “I want to collect 1billion steps for the movement, and we have launched CrossBowMiles as a digital platform where associated organisations that are working on ground for empowering women are registered. Your steps will unlock projects. The app also calculates the steps. You will also get a notification when the benefit reaches someone,” says Bakshi

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