Table of Contents
- Jameela Bibi: A young Muslim girl who has taken to cycling.
- Fatima: A secondary school teacher.
- Avakkani: Jameela and Fatima’s friend.
- N. Kannammal: Arivoli central coordinator and one of the pioneers of the cycling movement.
- Sheela Rani Chunkath: A popular district collector whose idea was to train female activists so that literacy would reach women in the interior.
- S. Kannakarajan: Owner of Ram Cycles.
- Muthu Bhaskaran: A male Arivoli activist.
The essay “Where There Is a Wheel” is taken from the book ‘Everybody loves a good drought’ written by P. Sainath a noted Indian journalist who writes columns regularly on social, rural problems post-globalization in leading journals. This essay is about a social movement through cycling in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu where over 100,000 rural women have taken to bicycling. Most of them are neo-literates who use bicycles as a symbol of independence, freedom, and mobility. Cycling has given new meaning and social identity to women, agricultural workers, quarry laborers, and village health nurses. Even balwadi and anganwadi (baby sitter) workers, gem cutters, and school teachers have joined the bandwagon. There are also gram sevikas and mid-day meal workers who have joined the new movement.
Women become the cause of a huge revolution in a small place like Pudukkottai
Where There is a Wheel by P. Sainath highlights how there is a huge revolution that very easily happens in Pudukkottai, a small district in Tamil Nadu. It is a very rare & unique opportunity when women, especially those not very literate become the cause of change.
In Pudukkottai women started learning bicycling as a means of freedom. This was carried out to be a chain reaction when women felt that trying to make people around them also enjoy independence was the reason why women were taught cycling free of cost and voluntarily. Women who had learned cycling and had the ability to train the others were called master trainers and they would try to train the others. Fortunately, all those women who joined the literate movement were diverted towards the new cyclist movement thereby, twin advantages were in their favour. Women who joined the neo-cyclist movement were drawn towards the neo-literate movement which meant that people, especially women were able to gain a lot of freedom and also oppose male domination.
Women used Cycles for multitasking
There were occasions when women used cycles for multitasking, i.e., especially so when women tried to purchase gents’ cycle and they used the front carrier to seat children, first their produce on the carrier and hang pots of water behind. Doing so, they were able to reduce their dependency on public transport, sell more goods, take care of their children, save time and money for their comfort.
Initially, when this movement started, there were many men who opposed it, it was then that the Arivoli Iyakkam movement (light of knowledge) began and many volunteers of this movement would attack men and warn them when they made nasty remarks. Added to this, the movement had one volunteer called Muthu Bhaskaran who had written an anthem song that was sung by these and this further united their struggle.
Cycling made women feel strong and confident
DC Sheela Rani Chunkath moved the banks to provide loans for all those women who wanted to purchase bicycles. This further strengthened the women and instilled a lot of confidence in them. One of them tries to describe the journey on her bicycle equivalent to a plane journey because they were never exposed to any technological development.
The narrator P. Sainath who returns to Pudukkottai after some time realizes how that revolution and the same attitude still existed in Pudukkottai and the same description is seen in the postscript written by him.
Women taking up cycling is as significant as their taking up literacy because cycling gives them mobility, opportunity, and freedom which together give the women certainty to remain on their own. At first, Sheela Rani Chunkath, a locale gatherer in 1991 proposed to prepare female literacy activists to empower them to spread education among women on the inside.
Along these lines, she included mobility as a piece of the literacy drive. Be that as it may, cycling assumed a substantially more critical part than opportunity and autonomy to squeeze out an autonomous presence. Cycling assisted them with remaining joined to their youngsters and family but is financially independent. It additionally assisted the ladies to impart family obligations to the men’s society.