She has been making news for walking across the length of the country to draw focus on the sexual violence against women. But 30-year-old Srishti Bakshi has not been spared the harrassment that has become so common in a woman’s life that it is the new normal. “There have been times when a few people stop to take selfies and get a little too close to comfort. They don’t even realise it is wrong and that it’s making somebody uncomfortable.” says the lady who has already walked more than 40 cities and towns since she started her journey earlier this year on September 15th, from Kanyakumari.
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But it is to raise awareness about and address this very ill that Srishti started her solo walkathon under a initiative that she has named the “CrossBow movement”. “When I named it the CrossBow Movement, there was a reason to it.This weapon is silent but lethal and needs a combination of pull, patience and precision to hit the bull’s eye.. That’s what we need to address the situation we find ourselves in” she says.
As the head of the Asian marketing team for an international company based out of Hong Kong, her conversations with her international colleagues about India invariably left a bitter after taste. ““The dominant narrative was always about sexual violence against women in India (though it is a reality around the world), even when they were just discussing travel plans. “While I would defend my country, quoting facts and figures, I knew they had a valid point too”
The idea of wanting to do ‘something’ began with these conversations. But the trigger for turning that thought into a concrete idea came when she read about the dual rape of a mother-daughter duo in Bulandshahar in 2016. She quite literally went back to the drawing board where she bought herself a whiteboard and started to jot down ideas about the possible avenues that could be explored to bring focused attention on the issue.
“Everyday, my husband and I would jot down points and ideas. But nothing really excited me enough. One day, I just erased all that writing and wrote ‘walking’ on it,” recalls Srishti and the whole thing fell into place. It was then that CrossBow was born.
Srishti plans to walk through the spine of India, a 3800-km journey over 260 days, from Kanyakumari in the south to Srinagar in the north, mobilising and inspiring communities in the cities and towns that she passes through, with a mission to make the country safer for girls and women.
Tackling the real issue
Even as Srishti began to plan her itinerary for the walkathon, she realised that merely bringing focus on the issue was perhaps not the most productive way of addressing the issue of sexual violence against women. “The media was already doing such a fantastic job of highlighting all that is going against the women in our country. I wanted to work on offering solutions.I needed to use my skill in branding stories and turning balance sheets from red to green in a social project”
For Srishti, the issue of sexual violence is part of a larger picture that primarily seeks to marginalise its women. An effective way to fight back was to empower women financially and with practical tools to improve their lives. Throughout her on-foot journey, therefore, she will be conducting workshops for girls, women, police, local government bodies and community groups – on digital & financial literacy, health, hygiene and sanitation, leadership, knowing one’s rights and gender sensitization.
Srishti was one of the 4000 applicants selected by the United Nations last year for their “Empower Women – Champion for Change”programme and had heard inspiring tales during her time there. “Average Indian women had managed to empower themselves through everyday apps that we use like whatsapp and youtube. A lady in Tamil Nadu opened her own shop after selling fabric and sarees through Whatsapp initially. Another lady from Bengal who did not speak a word of English and had moved to Hong Kong to work as a cook is now one of the most sought-after bakers in that city, having learnt that skill entirely through Youtube videos. So I planned workshops along the route of my walk where I could share these stories and help women develop life skills through something that was already easily accessible, and with them. A school may be far away from many, but a mobile phone is something you have at home,” says she, explaining the idea behind her movement.
The idea of empowering women through digital literacy has become a popular tool in developing countries. Even in Pakistan, a digital platform SWITCH-ITC works on health solutions for adolescent girls in rural areas. Its founder, Danielle Sharaf, was also selected by the United States State Department Global Women’s mentoring program.
“Digital literacy is simply a fancy word about being able to use technology to help better our lives and in turn empower ourselves against discrimination, because we know better and also learn how to fight it. My sister who is based in Los Angeles provides backend solutions for movie productions, so I have seen how popular mediums can be used to take information to the masses.”
But even as she recognised the reach of technology and its advantages, she is also quick to point out its limitations. “Nothing can replace human interaction. The stories of these women who turned their lives around because of technology works as an inspiration because I, as a person, am narrating it. The human connect is what makes a difference. Also in some places the reach may be limited. During a workshop with school kids at Kanyakumari, we realised that of 1500 girls, only twenty had access to the Internet.”
Yet Srishti believes every avenue to help women turn their lives around should be capitalised upon. “I needed to tell these women success stories in a language they understood. These stories act as a seed to get them to start thinking about their lives. ”
Yes, you can join in too
In fact, the CrossBow movement is now actively encouraging others to join Srishti and support her endeavour. “The idea is to collect one billion steps from around the country. So all you need to do is download the CrossBow App and choose a cause that you would like to support. From then on every step you take along your walks gets added to this tally of a billion steps and unlocks funding from donors for organisations working in these areas. Walking can help you make a change, it’s as simple as that,” urges Srishti.