Walking across India as a Woman – Moving Upstream

This is a guest blog by Nupur Agrawal. She had joined our Moving Upstream project and walked with us for almost 400kms from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh to Gangotri, Uttarakhand along the Ganga as we documented the river.

In the ongoing movement for gender equality, we feel it is imperative that everyone contributes in creating a more open society with equal opportunities for all. We love Nupur for her courage to challenge the status quo and for breaking gender based barriers. This is her story:

Pristine upper stretches of Bhagirathi Valley, Uttarakhand.

Pristine upper stretches of Bhagirathi Valley, Uttarakhand.

 

FROM THINKING TO DOING

I have learnt that it’s the first step that makes all the difference. Whatever may be your dream, you have to take the first leap and believe in yourself that you will deal with problems as and when they come. And if you ask me now, I’d probably say that a decision that looked so daunting then, was the best choice I ever made.

It’s been three years now, Siddharth had cycled all the way from Kolkata to Mumbai campaigning for a cause. After the Madness Project, he never looked back. He continued his walk towards change, and we as spectators, were left spellbound.

The fascination with Siddharth’s projects always lingered, but everyone including me had the doubt whether I was competent enough to do it. Moreover, being a woman, my enthusiasm to attempt such a journey was taken as a joke. I can now look back to see how social conditioning trickles into our thoughts subconsciously and materialises as self-doubt.

My mind was always occupied with the “what ifs”. ‘What if I am unable to walk the required distance in a day?’, ‘What if I have to come back mid-way?’, ‘What if I become a bother to everyone else?’, ‘What if I am unable to carry the weight of my bag?’, ‘What if my feet start paining?’, etc. etc.

But I decided to go anyway!

Shining through, a beautiful evening at Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand

Shining through, a beautiful evening at Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand

 

VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE!

Gender Dynamics

The villages that we passed through in the plains along the Ganga were unfrequented by outsiders. Spotting a group of young people walking with their rucksacks was itself a rare sight. Additionally, finding a woman in the group was something that made many cross-question us. We were often asked if I was related to the men or why was I as a woman even undertaking such a task.

Surprisingly, nobody asks this same question when a woman works in the fields for long hours. The problem it seems, is in how society has been conditioned, in our case due to the existence of strong patriarchal systems.

A woman from Bhotia tribe in Dunda, Uttarakhand, spinning yarn on Charkha.

A woman from Bhotia tribe in Dunda, Uttarakhand, spinning yarn on Charkha.

As a general observation, men we came across during the walk were more inclined to talk to men from our group, and similarly women, especially younger women appeared to be more comfortable speaking with me.

A village elder from Brahmapuri-Ravali in Uttar Pradesh

A village elder from Brahmapuri-Ravali in Uttar Pradesh

 

Being a Woman,

I had my set of apprehensions regarding the Walk. ‘Where will I pee while we are walking?’ ‘What if I get my period during the journey?’ ‘How will I manage if there is no toilet at the place where we stay?’

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this experience: in order to break ridiculous imaginary societal constraints, you have to be okay with a lot of things. You have to be okay with urinating behind the bushes, you have to be okay with using dirty toilets, you have to be okay with your menstruating body, you have to be okay with not taking a shower everyday, and ready to face every other impediment that comes your way.

A dysfunctional public toilet for women in Tehri district in Uttarakhand.

A dysfunctional public toilet for women in Tehri district in Uttarakhand.

 

THE RIVER

Before the Walk

The little I knew about Ganga was based on textbooks I had read as a child, a pilgrimage (char-dham yatra) I had been to with my parents, and it’s pious significance shown in Bollywood movies, most of which are shot in Varanasi, popular for its ghats and Hindu cremation sites.

A pitstop where we paused to record the flow of water at Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand

A pitstop where we paused to record the flow of water at Muni Ki Reti in Uttarakhand

 

The Walk

It was the first time I got to experience this mighty river so closely without a pre-existing lens. As we walked keeping ourselves as close to the river as possible, my mind slowly opened up to its myriad dimensions which were complex, yet beautiful.

A spiritual seeker at the banks of Ganga near Laxman Jhoola in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

A spiritual seeker at the banks of Ganga near Laxman Jhoola in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

I started to see for myself how a river isn’t just a source of water but rather an entire ecosystem, one that is multi-faceted as well as fragile. I could better understand the interconnections that exist between environment, religion, human rights, cultures, politics…

A fisherman with his inflatable rubber tyre fishing boat in Brahmapuri-Ravali in Uttar Pradesh

A fisherman with his inflatable rubber tyre fishing boat in Brahmapuri-Ravali in Uttar Pradesh

 

THE RIVER PEOPLE

Walking along a river, for long hours, under the sun, sometimes with no trees to give you shade (ironically), no hand-pumps to give you water while the river stank; can take a toll on your body and can become monotonous, pulling you back into your comfort zone.

What keeps you going is the curiosity to know more about lives of the people you encounter – pastoralists, farmers, fishermen, spiritual seekers, villagers, artisans, all kinds of people who seldom make the news.

Pastoralists we met on our way from Rampur Raighati to Haridwar in Uttarakhand

Pastoralists we met on our way from Rampur Raighati to Haridwar in Uttarakhand

People that you meet on your way, the brief interactions and their heart-filled stories. People who take you in at the end of the day and provide you shelter for the night & food prepared with love, even though they might not have enough.

Contract Labourers near Gangotri who had migrated from Jharkhand for employment.

Contract Labourers near Gangotri who had migrated from Jharkhand for employment.

While those that crossed our way gave more than we could wish for; we lent our ears to their untold stories with a promise to carry those stories with us and bring their identity to the forefront.

Riverbed cultivation of muskmelon near Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh

Riverbed cultivation of muskmelon near Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh

This photo story attempts to give you a glimpse into a woman’s experience of walking across India. We keep talking about the need to break gender biased roles and rules, but the onus is upon us to take the first step, especially if we are privileged enough to make this decision.

There are many more stories and photos to share, I will be sharing second part of the experience which would be more elaborate. In the meantime, you can write to me at agrawalnupur.iitkgp@gmail.com if you have any questions; or you can leave your thoughts in the comments section below and I will try to address them in the next story.

– Nupur

 

Nupur had joined us during our walk in Uttarakhand, as part of the Moving Upstream project on river Ganga. Moving Upstream is our homegrown project, the first edition saw us walking 2500kms along the Ganga from the sea to source. We are working to create a multifaceted experience revolving around the river. For more from the project visit: www.veditum.org/moving-upstream, and follow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more frequent updates.

We’re working on expanding our work with Moving Upstream to other rivers of India, if you’re interested in collaborating as an individual (participant/artist/researcher) or as an organisation (partner/sponsor) please reach out to us. Should you wish to re-publish this article, just drop us an email at: contact@veditum.org

8 replies on “Walking across India as a Woman – Moving Upstream

  • Soumi Dey Sarkar

    I know Nupur for years now. She never fails to amaze. From a vulnerable little kid to a strong girl that she has become… its nothing short of a fairy tale ! Yes, of course the real life fairy tales are written when one breaks barriers, moves out of comfort zone and leaves a trail for others to take inspiration from. Nup you are an fighter.. never cease to be one ! Keep shining !

    Reply
  • Vishesh

    Succinctly you have revealed the gamut of infinite thoughts that must have crossed your mind while accomplishing this challenging walk! It is a lovely post, but like a trailer of a good movie, or a sip of a good cocktail.
    Eager to read the stories you have to tell.

    Reply
  • deepak sirwani

    So proud of you Nupur that you are doing this. I loved the first part: from thinking to doing the most and could totally relate to it. Very well written and the best part is honesty. Waiting for the second part 🙂

    Reply

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