Growing up in north India, Sabita Mahato was told that girls aren’t allowed to dream. From an early age, she was suppressed and told to be at home and help mother do the chores.
But on September 7, 2017, Mahato (23) did something people didn’t think she ever could. Defying everyone she travelled all over India on a bicycle and became the youngest ever to do complete the journey that took over five months where she visited 29 states and two Union Territories.
She is now on a mission to travel the world on the bicycle, starting with Nepal. She reached Kathmandu on April 23 after setting off from New Delhi on the first day of the month. She will travel further east from Kathmandu and from there will go to Bhutan.
Motivation To Ride
Life in India is particularly hard for women. They are treated badly and are not given equal rights in the society. “From an early age that made me really angry,” says Sabita.
“I was restricted to the confines of my home. My cousins would go out and play, but I was never allowed to,” she adds. “They would tell me that I should stay at home and learn how to cook.”
That didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. She loved to dream and in school became attracted to sports, especially volleyball.
“My elder sister was a really good volleyball player, but she had to give up her dream playing for India when she got married at 22.” That came as a huge shock to Mahato because her sister was someone she looked up to a lot while growing up.
“The reason they got her married was that she used to wear shorts while playing volleyball, something the society didn’t approve of. To this day, I am shocked that the society even now thinks like they are living in the 10th century.”
But that didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. She also played volleyball like her sister and played in the national games. “I played volleyball because I wanted to change people’s mindset and that included my own father who didn’t support us when we were kids. He was the same as others telling us that we belonged to the kitchen,” she adds.
So she started off by changing the mindset of those who were in the family starting from her father. “I wanted to show him that women can do things in life.”
There was one thing Mahato kept in mind ever since she was a child, that to solve problems you can’t escape them – you have to face them.
“We in India talk a lot about looking after the girl child but talking won’t help. People need to do something about it. A reason why I set off on this journey is to prove to people that a girl could travel by herself. ”
When she told her family and relatives she was going on the journey people ridiculed her. “Everyone said I wouldn’t do it. They said I was too weak and me being a girl would make it impossible to survive travelling in India. They told me that I couldn’t even cycle a hundred kilometres.”
“That was demotivating because I had no idea about bicycles and the thought of travelling also made me a bit nervous.”
But a motivated Mahato set off anyway, “When people tell me I can’t do something I want to go on and prove them wrong and do it.”
She faced a challenge in her first journey when she struggled to get sponsors as one of them told her that they wouldn’t sponsor her because she was a girl and she wasn’t safe in India. “That was upsetting which is why I bought a bicycle off my own salary and started to arrange things on my own for the journey.”
“I’m thankful to those who have supported me in this journey. Especially to those who gave me the GPS so I wouldn’t get lost,” she adds.
She set off on the journey which saw her ride an average of 120 kilometres a day sleeping at mosques, temples, churches and even police stations.
People tell her that her cycling wouldn’t change the way people looked at girls, but she has an answer to them as well, “When Gandhiii walked for freedom, many ridiculed him too.”
“And I’m not doing this for fame or money I am doing this to understand why women aren’t safe. Not just in India but it’s the same case all over the world.”
She emphasises that she wants people, especially men, to respect a woman from an early age. Only then will they understand; otherwise she thinks nothing will change.
But slowly, things are changing. After hearing her story, two more girls who are even younger than Mahato have set off on the same journey.
“I am happy that two more are doing what I did. Their life was limited to Patna; but because of me they are seeing all of India–which is great because this experience will change their lives.”
After she completed her journeys, people have come up to her and asked to join the police and other government organisation, but she’s not ready to commit to that yet.
“I have a lot more to achieve in life so I’m not looking to tie down to anything. I want to do a world tour on the bike and visit all seven continents and if possible also climb the seven summits,” says Sabita who is also a mountain guide after getting trained at a mountaineering institute in Darjeeling.
Doing that will mean staying away from family which will obviously be hard. “Parents have been a huge support along with my brothers. Yes, initially the father didn’t believe in me, but my willpower made him believe that I could do what I set out to do and without them telling me to carry on maybe I wouldn’t be here. ”
She wants to ride and wants all girls to believe in themselves. “I don’t want them to be motivated by what I have done. I want them to fight for what’s right and strive for greater things.”
Source : Onlinekhabar