Rishika Sahoo with her TVS Scooty Zest on Mahanirban Road on Tuesday.(Arnab Mondal)
When you desire a son because he will keep the family name alive, look at it scientifically. In terms of heredity, it's not the family name that continues, it's the genes. And parents pass on their genes as much to a daughter as to a son.
This irrefutable logic rode into Calcutta on Monday in the form of Rishika Sahoo, a 35-year-old Art of Living teacher from Odisha who has been crisscrossing India on a two-wheeler to raise awareness against female foeticide.
"Your parnaani's genes are running through you, as much as your paternal genes. So a girl also perpetuates the vansh," smiled Rishika, sitting in the Art of Living office on Mahanirban Road on Tuesday.
On September 14, she had set off on her trusted TVS Scooty Zest 110 to spread the message of woman empowerment. "I started at Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium. I have ridden over 9,000km, to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana."
She meets college and high school students and women's self-help groups to talk to them about the ills of gender discrimination. "The girl in the womb doesn't have a voice. I want to be the voice of that baby. My target is the urban masses. Because it is the educated, moneyed people who go in for sex-determination tests. I also meet doctors and medical students," she said.
"I want to reach every household of India, but I want to reach in my own way... not wait for buses or trains or flights. So I thought a Scooty was a great way to reach every corner of India."
Funded mostly by her husband, Ratan Kumar Sahoo, a civil engineer in Jeypore, Odisha, Rishika has received support from Art of Living centres across India. "I live mostly with Art of Living families and eat with them, too. In some places, district magistrates have helped me, at other places common people have come forward," she said.
Rishika found out that Indians shun a girl child because of two reasons - money and fear. The first because of dowry as well as a girl's supposed lower earning capacity and the second because upon a girl's safety and chastity rests the family honour.
"I tell young girls that if they decide they will not take dowry to their in-laws' place, no one can force them to. I have not taken a single penny from my parents when I got married, so why not other girls?" she asked passionately.
She also tells parents to allow their girls to work and contribute to the family income. "When I say my points, I can see that they click with people. They can't deny the logic. Some of them even clap," she said with a smile.
The other side of women's safety is the large number of underage boys and young adult males locked up in juvenile homes and prison. "I urge parents to raise their boys in a way that they don't commit crimes against women. I tell them, if you tell your daughter to be back home before dark to protect her, why can't you ask your son to come home before sunset, too? That will prevent him from committing a crime," said Rishika, who has a degree in human rights from Delhi University.
On Wednesday, Rishika will lead a mini-bike rally from Sinthee More to Dunlop and then vroom off to Behrampore. "What we are doing is shameful for us as a country, as society," is her parting message.