On August 31, the Class 10 student had gone to Dadri market to buy milk. As she got on her Royal Enfield to head home, two men, Sachin (30) and Kuldeep (27), one her neighbour and the other a resident of a nearby village, warned her against riding a bike. Later, they allegedly stormed into her house, threatened her family, and also fired in the air.
“They said how could I let my daughter ride a bike. I asked them, why not. They got agitated and started threatening me, and fired in the air… After they left, I went to the Jarcha Police Station and filed a complaint,” says Sunil Mavi, 46, a farmer, sitting in his two-storey house in the village.
Following Mavi’s complaint, an FIR was filed against the accused under IPC Sections 452 (trespassing), 352 (assault) and 506 (criminal intimidation). While Sachin continues to be on the run, last week police arrested Kuldeep, the other accused in the case.
Mavi does most of the talking on his daughter’s behalf “because I don’t want her to get into any trouble”. For the same reason, he doesn’t want her to be named for this report. Leaning on a diwan nearby, the 16-year-old nods in agreement.
Dressed in striped high-waisted pants and a knotted T-shirt, a few flicks of hair falling loosely on her face, the 16-year-old stands out from the other residents of Milak Khatana, a small hamlet in Dadri tehsil in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddha Nagar district. Less than a 100 km from Delhi, the hamlet has about 500 families, most of them from the Gujjar community. In these parts, women are mostly confined to the homes and when they step out, it’s rarely without pulling their dupattas over their faces. While most homes in the area are pucca, many with SUVs parked outside them, the literacy rate in Jarcha, under which the hamlet falls, stands at 57.64 per cent, while that figure for women is a mere 47.46 per cent.
Mavi, however, says ensuring education for his six children has been a priority for him. Of Mavi’s four daughters, three are graduates, his youngest son and the 16-year-old are in an English-medium school and another son is in college.
So how did the 16-year-old take to riding bikes? Mavi again answers. “It started early,” he says. “I loved bikes. We first had a Pulsar, and by the time she was barely 10, she learnt to ride it on her own. I never stopped her,” says Mavi, who apart from the two bikes, also owns a car.
His daughter joins in, “Last year, we got the Enfield and I started riding it. Also, since all my sisters are married, my elder brother is in a college in Meerut and my younger brother is only 12, it was left to me to run errands. I have been taking my bike to the market for many months,” she says.
The bike also comes in handy when she has to take her friends out for a spin around the village and to attend her tuition classes. “I have my Board exams next year, and I recently enrolled for science tuitions. I ride my bike to the tuition centre,” she says, now walking up to the courtyardwhere the family’s bikes are parked.
While the Pulsar has picked up some dirt from being ridden on the village’s dusty lanes, the Royal Enfield stands spotless, scrubbed by the 16-year-old.
Mavi says that while most girls in the village ride Activas, his daughter always preferred the bike and “I never stopped her.” His support could have something to do with his stint at an export factory in Gurgaon a few years ago. “There, I found more women with jobs than men. And I saw girls out in markets till late at night… Samay badal gaya hai (Times have changed),” he says. “I want her to take up a job after her marriage. If both husband and wife work, there is less financial burden on the family,” he adds.
The 16-year-old is clear about her goals too. “I want to take up science after Class 10, and then become a teacher,” she says, as her father chips in, “At her in-laws’ home, if they let her ride a bike, she can do it there too. But it is their decision.”
While her father admits the 16-year-old does not have a license, he says she only rides the bike around the village. “She takes the bus to school,” he says.
The 16-year-old has other interests too, says her father. “She likes to read… mostly course books. She doesn’t watch much television,” he says. She doesn’t have a phone.
A few homes away from Mavi’s, Kailash Devi, mother of Sachin, one of the two men accused of threatening Mavi’s family, claims the ‘fight’ had nothing to do with the 16-year-old riding her bike. Sitting in her sprawling courtyard, a dupatta over her head, Devi, in her 60s, says, “Why would we object to her riding her bike? My grandchild (one of Sachin’s two children) had had a fight with their youngest son. The argument was over that. But after the mahapanchayat, we gave them a written apology. The matter has been resolved.”
The a mahapanchayat was held on September 25 with representatives from 25 nearby villages to resolve the tussle. Mavi says he accepted the family’s apology and now wants the matter to end. “We want to withdraw the case too. After all, we are neighbours,” he says.
Will his daughter continue to ride the bike? “Yes. Yesterday, she went to the market again.”