Kashmir’s cycle of peace

A humble, sustainable mode of transport, cycle, is helping the youth in Kashmir to explore new ways of breaking free from a past riddled with violence and despair.

Life has not been easy for the young born into violence. It was easy to pick up a stone or a gun, and not a cycle to freedom. A violent childhood perpetuates only violence. For decades, they were trapped in a cycle of violence. Hope was missing, so were opportunities.

Then as a new form of governance ushered in, hope began to flicker, in football, in cricket and a whole new burst of energy that came from cheering crowds in stadiums and street corners.

No one, in this hustle and bustle of change, thought of the ubiquitous cycle as the chariot of fire, the wheels of fortune for the young men and women who were desperate to snatch at every wisp of freedom. And, what a freedom, the humble cycle offered.

The girls of Srinagar know this well. They were ridiculed when they brought out their cycles; it was the only sport they could afford. But they persisted against all odds. Today, as the first sunlight cuts through the early morning haze, young women, in sports suits, protective gear and wide smiles, call out to their friends to join in their journey of freedom along the picturesque Boulevard and Fore Shore Road that curves around Dal Lake in Srinagar.

They are part of a growing tribe of cyclists taking over the streets and roads of Kashmir which, not long ago, were controlled by militants and the military. What began as one or two women cyclists coming out on their own, the momentum has gathered in the past several months to give it a shape of a movement, a movement for freedom and healthy life. A cycle offered both, at an affordable cost.

A cycle offered dreams too — dreams of attaining sporting glory. Bilal Ahmad Dar is an apt illustration of such a dream. He has won several international medals in cycling competitions recently. His biggest dream is to take part in the Olympics. He comes from Kawoosa village in Budgam district and his family cultivates fruits and vegetables.

No less daring is Adil Teli, a 23-year-old young man from Narbal in Budgam district. In September last, he created a Guinness Book of World Record for the fastest Kashmir-to-Kanyakumari cycle journey. He took eight days, one hour and 37 minutes to complete the classical journey on the two wheels.

The new administration, spotting a unique opportunity in promoting cycling for peace, has launched a ‘Pedal For Peace’ event in different districts for the past few months. These events have attracted hundreds of young and not-so-young cycling enthusiasts. A similar event organised by the Army recently attracted over 200 women from different parts of the country.

There is a growing interest among the youth as well as the organisers of such events to promote and project a different way of life in Kashmir — a healthy, peaceful and sporting legacy. Much of this effort rides on two wheels of a cycle. Rarely has a cycle been a symbol of peace in a violence-ridden region. In Kashmir, it offers a non-violent, peaceful way of life.




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