Srishti Bakshi is so passionate about making India a safer place for women, she’s embarking on an eye-watering 3,800 km journey on foot to spread her message across the whole country.
The 30-year-old quit her marketing job in Hong Kong and returned to her homeland to make the 260-day trek in the name of female empowerment. Her journey began last week and takes her from Kanyakumari in the south of the country, to Srinagar in the north. Speaking before she set off Bakshi said, “Gender equality, political power, economic freedom and women entrepreneurship are buzz words, but women’s safety is the very basis of existence.
The issue of violence against women in India made international headlines following the gang rape, and subsequent death, of a 23-year-old female student on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012. Widespread protests were held across the nation and, following the public outcry, a panel was set up to recommend changes to India’s laws on sexual crimes.
In March 2013 harsher penalties for rapists were introduced which also made stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks listed offences. But on the ground in India, change can seem frustratingly slow for its female population. India’s National Crime Records Bureau recorded a total number of 327,394 gender specific “Crimes Against Women” in 2015. This number includes 34,651 cases of rape.
It’s statistics like these that inspired Bakshi to take action. The marketing professional (whose resume includes management roles at Red Bull and OtterBox) decided she wasn’t content to be an observer any longer, and she formed an organization called “Project CrossBow” with the aim of empowering woman across India to push back against gender bias.
Empowering women through workshops
Bakshi says she plans to educate those she meets along her journey by conducting workshops on women’s rights and financial and digital literacy, as well as addressing health and hygiene issues. She has collaborated with a number of organizations, including Google, to provide her with modules and tools for teaching.
In each location they pass through, the team will identify people on the ground who want to continue the work that CrossBow initiates and carry these ideas forward. The content for the workshops is varied. In rural areas women are being taught how to use the internet without having to learn to read or write, while in more urban areas the focus is on inspiring women to make a difference. Bakshi hopes to hold around 110 workshops by the time her walk finishes in April.
A national issue with international resonance
Bakshi believes the 2012 gang rape case in Delhi made women feel it was their duty to come out onto the streets and start demanding justice, but at that time she wasn’t quite ready to take the next step. That came in July 2016 when she heard a 35-year-old woman and her 14-year-old daughter were gang raped just meters off an Indian highway. Bakshi says she was speechless.
“I lost my balance and just wanted to go home. It disgusted me. My husband said that if I felt so passionately about the subject I should do something right now.”
So the couple went out and purchased a whiteboard, installed it in their apartment and began to brainstorm about how Bakshi could actually make a tangible difference. This led to the formation of CrossBow.
Since then the movement has gathered momentum and gained the backing of the Indian President. Bakshi met Shri Ram Nath Kovind before she set off on her journey, and when she passes through Delhi in February she plans to present him with a journal documenting the sentiments of those she has spoken to along the way.
Using technology as a safeguard
For its part, the Indian government has already made a number of moves to address women’s security. In 2018 panic buttons are due to be introduced on all public service vehicles. All mobile phones sold in the country are also now supposed to be fitted with panic buttons, allowing women to call the emergency services by pressing a single key on their device. And from January 2018, GPS will also be mandatory on all phones sold.
Making every step count
Bakshi may be just one week into her walk but she knows she isn’t alone, and has described the response so far as “incredible.” She has harnessed the power of social media to call for followers, or “Arrows” as she calls them. If they can’t physically join her for some of the walk, they can take part by downloading the CrossBow app to record their daily footfall. Bakshi has a very specific target in mind for the app.
“My goal is to collect around one billion steps from the entire nation to work towards a safer country for women.”
She knows it will be a long road ahead, not just in physical distance but also in the number of minds she hopes to influence along the way, helping to create a better future for India’s females one step at a time.