KARACHI: Grit and grace rode side by side as girls on bicycles came to Seaview on a call of Girls at Dhabas here on Sunday morning to show solidarity with Aneeqa Ali, a bicycle rider, who was harassed and injured by some men in a car a few weeks ago while she was minding her own business on Lahore roads.

Some of the girls had tied banners to their backs as they pedaled away to reclaim Karachi’s roads. There were messages such as ‘Wheels and streets have no gender’, ‘Let’s fill our streets with women’, ‘Yeh sarkain hamari hain’ and ‘Cycle chalao, patriarchy dubao’. Though it was just the girls riding the bikes, several boys showed support for the cause by lending their bicycles to those who didn’t have their own bikes during the rally.

“When Girls at Dhabas were discussing their plans for this rally on their WhatsApp group, there were all kinds of reactions. That was when I urged all to think positively and focus on the cause,” said Asim Kamal, who came to Seaview to support the girls and also lend them his own bicycle.

The girls were also joined by a couple of bikers from Critical Mass, a well-known biking group and movement to which the Aneeqa Ali, the injured cyclist belongs. Sheen Ahmed said they had just completed their own Sunday morning routine to join the others there. “I am with whoever enjoys biking,” she said.

Jaweria Khan, the other Critical Mass biker, said that since Critical Mass also had many men, she felt safer when riding alongside them on her bike. “I feel secure riding with the guys in our group but today riding with just girls was a different experience,” she said admitting that it did make her think about how vulnerable women by themselves could feel in a man’s world. Still, she was upbeat about doing it again and on longer routes, too.

Hiba Latifi, another girl, who had come to join the rally after hearing about it, said she haD founded her own riding group called Bike Centric. “But we only ride on our university campus. This was the first time I was riding as an adult on Karachi roads,” she said.

Shumaila Hashmi said she just had to come and ride with the girls the moment she heard about their cause. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have forgiven myself,” she said. “Riding today I managed to convert all my negative feelings about how it would feel to be doing this, to positive ones.”

Bela Shakaib, a medical student, said she really didn’t go out much other than moving around her university campus. “I enjoyed the wind on my face and the soft morning sunshine but even though this area is safer, people’s comments, which I could hear while riding my bike today made me feel insecure. But then I asked myself if I was feeling vulnerable because I was a woman? But then the next instant I realised that those who saw me as a weak and vulnerable woman were really nothing to me. That was when I stopped caring about what they said and pedaled on,” she said.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2016

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