Eleven states, 3,600 kms and 260 days. One woman is on a mission to cover the entire stretch from Kanyakumari to Kashmir- on foot, and all alone. Meet Srishti Bakshi who has taken up this mission to create awareness about the security and social status of women in India.
Srishti, an MBA under her belt, had a dream job and was living in Hong Kong with her husband. However, a horrific incident in which a mother and daughter were gang-raped after being dragged out of their car near Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh in 2016 left a deep impact on her. She decided to give up her high profile job and created "CrossBow", a movement which aims to empower women and make India a safer place for them.
"I would feel ashamed at the fact that India is not considered to be a safe place for women. This thought would often make me feel angry. I wanted to do something for women in India," Srishti, 30, told IANS in a telephonic conversation.
"I do not have any experience as a social worker. I came back to India and talked to my family about my plan. I hail from an army background, and my parents and husband were extremely supportive of the whole idea," she added.
But before she plunged into her mission, Srishti had to dedicate a whole year preparing herself for the journey. She had to undergo extensive physical training -- muscle repair therapy -- before she started off.
And it wasn't just the physical training -- Srishti had to prepare herself mentally as well.
"I had to research a lot and talk to as many people who have multiple years of experience in the field of social work. I used to sit with my father with a huge map of India and chalk out places I would cover," Srishti mentioned.
Starting her journey on September 15 last year from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, Srishti has already walked through states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Currently she is in Delhi where she will be hosting an event at India Gate in association with the National Commission for Women (NCW) on March 4 -- ahead of International Women's Day on March 8.
On the road, her target is to cover 25 km to 30 km every day. However, the walk is not her sole aim. She conducts workshops in villages for women and organizes sessions in schools and colleges to make the people aware of the situations and circumstances faced by women.
"The workshops are not just meant for women, but for men and young boys as well; I feel it is equally important for them as well as to believe in women's empowerment. It is necessary to bridge the gender gap between a boy and a girl," she said.
Talking about her experience till now, she said the journey has given her an opportunity to closely associate herself with the harsh realities and truths about the socio-economic crisis that women face in India.
"A number of factors like domestic violence, open consumption of alcohol, lack of police force and lack of empathy towards women victims are some brutal truths that I have encountered till now," she said.
Srishti said her journey till date is no less than a "logistical nightmare".
"It is both mentally and physically very draining. I meet more than 100 people every day, talk to them, discuss their issues and try to come up with solutions; all this requires a lot of mental strength. Then comes the physical part, even if I am extremely tired, the next morning I am again charged up to resume the walk," she explained.
What inspires her to continue walking?
"It is the love and support of people at all the places I have covered. Till date, I have met more than 25,000 people, some of them didn't have good thoughts. But I got great support for my work from the local people and hope to carry it forward till Srinagar," she explained.
Asked how hopeful she is of her mission bringing about change in society, Srishti voiced confidence.
"I don't know how many lives have been changed or whether I have been able to bring about change, but every time an individual called me, it made me feel that I am working in right direction. Change is over time, I have sowed the seed and now will have to wait for the change," she commented.