This Woman Is Marching 3,800km to Make India Safer for Women
Srishti Bakshi is on a mission to empower women.
A marketer-turned-women’s-rights-activist, Srishti Bakshi is walking the length of India, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, to give women a stronger voice and make India a safer nation. We met Srishti ahead of the International Women’s Day to hear her inspiring story of taking real action for bringing about real change!
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself, your personal journey and motivations.
A lot of people mistake me for being in the social development sector or an athlete. I am neither. I am an ordinary girl who wanted to grow up and be the CEO of Unilever. After completing my education in India, I went on to work as a marketer and somewhere down the line, got married and moved to Hong Kong. After the relocation, I was working with people from all over the world and through all of my conversations with such a diverse group, one thing always stood out: Everyone had a textbook set of opinions on India. Almost everyone wanted to visit our country. Almost everyone wanted to learn more about yoga and see the Taj Mahal. And almost everyone believed that men in India rape.
I had lived a life of loving my country so I always fought back and defended India. I justified it by quoting statements like, “it happens everywhere”. However, my reverie would be broken each time, as I woke up to more and more accounts of women getting raped, children getting molested, little girls being married off and traded. And it wasn’t long before I began to realise the truth in the seemingly offensive statements. India might not be the worst but it still is a long way from being the best country for women to feel safe, free, and empowered.
Q. You have often spoken about how deeply personal this whole journey has been for you. What are the key events in this journey that stand out and set you up on this path of walking across the length of India for women’s safety?
The one event that stands out for me has to be the Highway 91 rape case. An incident where a mother and a daughter got gang-raped in front of their family. I thought about all the shallow excuses and justifications people give to horrifying incidents of rape in India. What was the girl wearing? Why was she alone? Why was she out late at night? I realised all of these were straying the whole country from actually thinking about this epidemic and only perpetuating the rape culture. This incident provoked me to start a conversation and talk to friends and family. It started off with being an emotionally exhausting experience because all I heard was indifference and apathy. Comments like, “This is how India is!”, “You can’t do anything about it!”, “India has always been patriarchal so it is no good bothering yourself!”.
Finally, it was my husband who encouraged me to hold onto this thought of bringing about a change and act upon it. It was after we made lists over lists that the idea of a pan-India walk for women’s safety came to me and I declared that I was going to walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and meet women and learn from their experiences before I set out on any lofty initiative to change the lives of women I don’t identify with.
This is how it all began. I trained extensively for a year and the set out on this 3,800 km walk spread over 260 days across 12 states. I am more than halfway through the walk now. I am meeting people, a whole lot of them. My team and I are conducting workshops. We are interacting with women, men, young students, and infusing them with thought processes. We do not have a lofty idea of achieving gender equality overnight. We hope to leave each workshop and every individual with an action plan.
Q. Tell us a bit more about these workshops. What helped you conceptualise them and what are the key areas you focus?
My aim was always to have a learning and bonding element to this walk. It was always supposed to be about meeting as many people as possible and exchanging our lived experiences and knowledge for better.
I applied for empower women initiative by UN Women Empower Women Champion of Change 2016-17. Getting through the program was the first assurance for me to know that I am on the right path. I did a six-month internship with UN Women and during my term worked on the case studies pertaining to digital literacy being the next big leap in women empowerment. I then collated more case studies from different countries of different people with diverse perspectives. Finally, I put my passion, the case studies, education and lived experience in this movement.
We are now on our path of conducting over 110 workshops on topics focused on creating awareness for women’s safety in their day to day lives and empowerment through financial and digital literacy. The key themes include Digital Literacy, Gender at home, Know your rights, Women’s leadership, and some modules on water and sanitation.
Q. As one individual, you’ve embarked on an epic journey that is making ripples across the country. What action do you hope to inspire in other individuals?
This journey will truly be successful if people come to realise that help is only going to come if you actively think about and want change. Apathy has a huge role to play when it comes to things not changing for the better in India. Any number of policy changes will make no difference if we as a community do not actively work for change. That is the core of our work through this walk - to generate this desire for change. We want people to dream of a better world and then actively work towards it.
We are getting more and more involved in armchair activism. It is great to hear people voicing their opinions, to know they are frustrated and want change. But somewhere down the line, we need to stop venting on our walls and actually take action as small as it is. I understand how time is a luxury and you can’t expect the youth to leave everything and get walking like I am. However, the message I am trying to push through is, even the small acts matter. Talk to the women around you. Listen to their stories. If you see someone in your vicinity struggling because of their gender, or any problem, make it a point to stand with them. Let them know about schemes and policies that can help them. Change in my head isn’t one lakh women getting impacted by my workshops. Our aim is to inspire small changes, to let people see the potential in them to bring about the change.
We also have an app called Crossbow Miles where we encourage people to walk with us and the steps they take help us garner support for our partner causes and NGOs.
Q. Global Citizen is a movement to get people across the world to take action and demand that their leaders address major social challenges. How can the voice of global citizens improve the state of these issues that you are fighting for?
Platforms like Global Citizen or Crossbow Miles, an app I found to encourage people to walk with me and support various causes, are only agents that connect you to actual change. If you are an individual who wants to take action, don’t set up a goal that is unrealistic to your situation in life. Start small. Talk to your house helps, understand their challenges, all of these actions matter. We as urban and largely privileged people need to start at home. If there is one action I expect global citizens to take, it has to be the sense of initiative and letting change begin at home!
Q. What can we achieve on International Days like IWD?
I am not a cynic. I truly believe that the smallest of acts count. If we are actually dedicating a day or week to celebrating women, I think it is a great thing. We get to hear women, about women, celebrate women, and even if it is for a day, it lets us focus on a particular issue when it is easy to get swamped with hundred things around the year. If the entire world can focus their attention on this one day on women, and celebrate women and their power, it is a great thing!
Q. These are issues that take multi-stakeholder action in order to be fully addressed. What policy changes would you like to see happen in this space? Crossbow Miles seeks to advocate for a set of changes and recommend the same to the Ministry of Women & Child Development. Could you give us an insight into some of the solutions that you seek to recommend to the Ministry?
Our recommendations will be very specific in nature. Police strengthening is a huge issue we will address. It had been a huge area of research for us and we aim to get more involved and get more support. Initiatives like prison visits, humanising police officers, drumming up media support for police will definitely be on the list. We would also recommend I&B ministry to put a mandate on news channels to do a specific number of stories on positive change.
Policies to promote confidence building of the girl child is another recommendation. We would even recommend the government improve upon the existing policies. ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao’ is great but not enough. Add a ‘Bete ko Samjhao’ to it. Conditioning boys from a young age to see women as equals is crucial.
Better implementation of policies is also something we are looking to make a recommendation into. There are multiple yojanas that are excellent on paper but the action on the ground is just not justifying their aim. These are, however, just continually processing thoughts and in the end, we aim to submit a detailed research paper with real accounts and recommendations to the Ministry.
Global Citizen India campaigns for matters of gender equality in India and will continue to closely monitor this issue. You can take action here.