Despite concerns expressed by conservatives, more and more women are taking to the roads on two wheels in Jammu and Kashmir as motorbiking increases in popularity
Seated on plastic chairs and a worn-out-cot, a small group of young boys and girls plan to explore the woods after having tea from a stall located on a national highway in the Sidra area of the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, or J&K.
After a terse discussion, the group of six head towards their bikes, parked behind the tea-stall. One hour later, all of them will be inside the dense forests of Janipur.
Zeenat Hamid, 19, makes the first move as she turns on one of the most popular sports bikes in India, the Yahama R-15.
“I have been riding bikes for the last two years. I have been passionate about motorbikes since childhood,” she tells Euronews Culture. “I used to watch motorcycle racing events and desired to be one among those."
Born in Poonch, a town located near the Line of Control [LoC], the de-facto border that divides the disputed Himalayan territory into two parts controlled by India and Pakistan, Hamid claims her journey to become a biker was full of ups and downs following opposition from her family, relatives and neighbours.
“But I chased my dream and learnt to ride bikes by watching tutorials on YouTube,” Hamid says. “I borrow bikes from my male friends to explore different places in J&K.”
People from conservative societies, according to Hamid, react adversely if they find women or girls doing something that is traditionally seen as confined to men.
“People need to understand times have changed and there is no difference between men and women,” Hamid says. “I dream of purchasing my own bike from the money I earn from vlogging,” she adds, stating that she will ride across J&K and Ladakh in order to inspire her audiences to visit J&K.
Chasing Big Dreams
If Hamid explores J&K, her namesake Zeenat Sheikh, 21, isn't lagging behind.
Hailing from Bhaderwah town of Jammu region, Sheikh was also inspired by motorcycle racing events held in different parts of the world.
“I was so passionate that I got distracted from studies and began asking my friends to teach me how to ride bikes,” Sheikh tells Euronews Culture. “My family, especially my younger brother, supported me once I revealed that I want to do moto-vlogging as a career."
Sheikh says that a few neighbours and relatives objected but she never looked back and went on to become one of the most popular female bikers in J&K.
“I will not stop at any cost as riding bikes is in my blood,” Sheikh says. “Those having objections need to understand that a motorcycle after all is a vehicle and there is nothing wrong in riding them.”
Sheikh wants people to see her participate in worldwide racing events, the same ones she used to watch on television.
“I am focused and have a passion to hit the roads globally just like the way I ride on the terrains in my home town,” she says. “I don’t want to be a delicate girl but someone who will set an example across the globe how a girl should be."
Riding on the rise
“I don’t want to be a normal biker but the one who can perform stunts too,” Huda Andrabi, 18, tells Euronews Culture. “I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with men showing that a girl or a woman is capable of everything."
Over the past few years, the number of female motorcyclists in J&K has increased. There are even rare cases where some people report seeing girls regularly riding bikes in college uniforms.
One such college student from Srinagar is Syed Misba, 22, who believes that a bike is the most convenient vehicle for vloggers like her, as it can pass through rough roads without facing major obstacles.
Misba claims that she knows how to ride all kinds of bikers from “Bajaj Pulsar to Royal Enfield” after training for several months.
“The initial stage was tough as I struggled a lot, but since I knew how to ride a scooter I capitalized on my weakness and went on to become one of the few girls who ride motorcycles in J&K,” Misba shares. “I was smothered with negative comments but parental support gave me strength to overpower negativity."
Misba says that women can do wonders in every field, provided they have support from society. She believes that over the last four years, there has been a noticeable change in attitudes as more people have encouraged her to pursue moto-vlogging as a career.
“It feels good when people encourage me when they see me riding,” Misba says. “My first dream is to travel alone to Ladakh on my bike as it needs to be explored and promoted."
If the online community is any guide at all, then the passion for riding appears to be spreading with bikers like Salika Malik, Nissa Bhat and Faizul Manzoor all considered icons by many teenagers.