Biking for women’s empowerment

Minhajullah Hashmi on a bike expedition.

Minhajullah Hashmi (25), Minhaj to friends, is just back after a 3,000-plus km solo bike ride across Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. He was on a crowd- funding campaign to support rural women with income generating opportunities. “I am happy to have raised ₹1 lakh from this 16-day ride,” he says. He is a software professional from Accenture and member of RAC New Age Engineers, RID 3150. The club plans to provide tailoring courses for 100 underprivileged women and also facilitate their earning by engaging them in making clothes for people in orphanages and old-age homes.

“We have enlisted support from Rotarians also to divert work to benefit these women,” he says. This is his first year in Rotaract and he is “already excited with the number of opportunities that Rotary has to offer.”

Minhaj’s mother, a medical officer with the State government, is his role model. “I know first-hand the power of a woman; my mother worked hard to bring us up as my father passed away when I was just five. And my faith in women was further reinforced when she successfully rolled out a bright future for my four sisters and I. I strongly believe that women can achieve anything and everything if they are exposed to the right opportunities at the right time. They can build a family into a masterpiece if they set their mind to it.”

Minhaj and team had earlier collected ₹65,000 through a fundraiser called Dandya Dhoom and the money was used for education of few orphaned children in Hyderabad.

In Mumbai.

So, how did he manage to take a fortnight off from work, I ask him. He says he didn’t take leave for the last five months and applied for 10 days leave and included the weekends for his adventure ride. Also, he used his own savings for this trip.

He shares some unforgettable memories from his journey. One was in a village, Nuvapud near Udupi, where he met a physically-challenged woman on a wheelchair. She was all alone and managing a small general store inherited from her father. “I admire her grit. She has even done the Umrah which is a pilgrimage to Mecca, as an alternative to the Hajj. Unlike the Hajj which is done on specific dates according to the Islamic calendar, the Umrah can be performed anytime. When asked if she did not have anybody to support her, she said, ‘I want to help people. I am capable of taking care of myself.’”

On another occasion at Amboli, near Goa, he had stopped by at a lodge for the night. He recalls the kindness of the inn-keeper who offered him chapati and fish prepared from his home as the restaurant at a distance accepted only cash and “I had just ₹10 in my pocket and was planning to use my credit card. In fact he fed me breakfast too the next morning before I left the place.”

Asked if Rotary clubs and Rotarians helped him along the way, Minhaj says that he had only sent mailers to the DRRs and so “I didn’t meet the Rotarians, although our parent club RC Secunderabad West supported me. Club members Padmini and Kamal Jain were in touch with me throughout the tour. I shared the Google location with them and the moment I stopped somewhere one of them would call and check if all was well.”

Sahil Vakharkar of RAC Wai gave him valuable tips on riding across the Western Ghats as “that was my first trip on this route. His guidance helped me save 500 km and I was able to attend the RotAsia fest in Goa on time.” He had a memorable reception at the event too.

So how was the solo riding experience? “I was comfortable in my own company. I didn’t have to wait for anyone. And earphones and music were a strict no-no for me, as I had a narrow escape on my previous trip when a lorry overtook me from the right when I was riding on a highway listening to music,” smiles Minhaj.

Presently he is at Srikakulam basking in his mother’s love, who “keeps complaining that I don’t have time for her.”

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