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Jyoti Kumari’s Story, While Inspiring, Also Makes Us Question Our Opportunistic Nature And Privilege

Posted: May 26, 2020

Bihar’s ‘Bicycle Girl’ turned down an offer to go for trials as a trainee at the National Cycling Academy. Why are we making an opportunity of a crisis?

Coronavirus has hit the entire world like an unexpected disaster. Due to the lockdown, a number of people are still stranded away from their households. Families, police and authorities for the past two months have been trying to get people back home. And if you have been paying attention to the news, you would know of Jyoti Kumari aka The Bicycle Girl.

She was praised all over the internet and became a global celebrity overnight, with people like Ivanka Trump tweeting about her.

https://twitter.com/IvankaTrump/status/1263828899575758849

Later,Hindustan Times reported that the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) invited her to appear for a trial at the IGI Stadium complex in New Delhi. The report said that following the trail Jyoti could train at the National Cycling Academy. However, Jyoti turned down the offer stating she ‘wanted to complete her matriculation first.

The Indian Express quoted her statement, “I wish to complete my studies first. I also feel physically weak now after such a long arduous journey. Earlier, I could not continue my school education because of my family problems and I was occupied with domestic work… but now I wish to complete my matriculation first.”

How she became the ‘Bicycle Girl’

Jyoti Kumari was forced to cycle around 1,300 km from Gurugram in Delhi to Darbhanga in Bihar. She had gone to Gurugram with her mother and brother-in-law earlier this year after her father broke his leg in an accident. Her father worked as E-riskshaw driver in Gurugram. Although her mother and brother-in-law returned to the village she stayed back to look after her father.

The lockdown kept getting extended and the father and daughter barely had any financial aid. Add to their, their landlord pressured them to vacate the room, they were in. Thus, they were left with no option but to leave for their home.

They first thought that they could leave for their village like others. However, they lacked the funds. So Jyoti took the responsibility upon herself and bought a second-hand bicycle from her neighbour. Then on May 10, with her father as a pillion, she cycled for around 1300 kms in seven days to reach home.

After this, her story of courage, bravery and determination went viral. She ended up getting a new bicycle, school uniform, and shoes from the District Magistrate of Darbhanga. (As reported by Hindustan Times)

Interestingly she also received an invitation from the Cycling Federation of India to try out for the national team. Which she has, for now, turned down.

Why did Jyoti turn down the invitation?

Doordarshan sports quoted her father Mohan Paswan saying, “Yes, we received the call from New Delhi. We said she needs rest now maybe after two-three months we will see. We will surely send for the trials after the lockdown is lifted. She was enrolled in class nine yesterday. At the moment, we want her to complete her matriculation.”

Jyoti is 15 years old and she had to leave her studies due to family concerns. Now that she has gotten her admission back, she wants to finisah her education.

On one hand, it is a great idea to provide opportunities to those not as privileged. However, considering their helplessness as their passion or talent because they are poor, is not fair.

Putting a happy spin to a tragedy?

It was wonderful that the Cycling Federation invited Jyoti for trials. However, we need to really re-look the circumstances that made us proud about the ‘Bicycle Girl.’

Jyoti didn’t become a cycling ‘enthusiast’ out of passion, she was forced to cycle the distance out of helplessness. This makes me question the Cycling Federation intent of inviting her for the trials and assuming she will accept it happily simply because she is poor and doesn’t seem to have a lot of choice.

What we need to understand here that it takes years of training for people to get into trials for becoming a national athlete. So to call in someone who has never trained, is a questionable attempt of turning tragedy into a happy story.

To expect a her to deliver, what can only be achieved after years of systematic training is neither realistic nor practical. It is, yet another way, for the authorities to say they gave her a chance and be the ‘heroes.’

Other than that, the authorities neglecting her real need of education and instead giving her a trial isn’t fair on her. Neither is it fair on the others who have worked for years to get there, one of whom, she will replace had she accepted their offer.

Thirdly the authorities asking Jyoti to go to the trials, questions our mentality, that if one offers something, people will accept it. It brings to mind the concept of privilege and how those who have it will assume things for others.

I mean for example we all know how good Tiger Shroff is at gymnastics, but have we seen any sports authority inviting him for trials? No. That’s because they know becoming an athlete is not what he wants. So simply assuming that Jyoti will be interested in becoming an athlete only because she cycled the distance, out of helplessness is questionable.

Is it really a happy story?

Like Jyoti and her father, there are many other migrant labours and small scale workers stuck away from their hometowns. Jyoti’s story of dedication and courage sounds like a warm, fuzzy, feel-good story that does make us all proud. But actually, it is a story that should make her feel proud and all of us ashamed. Yet the internet is full of comments praising Jyoti.

We have successfully made a happy story for ourselves out of a humanitarian crisis. Completely forgetting what circumstances led Jyoti to become the Bicycle Girl. 

It isn’t the first time people in privilege have felt proud after reading the story of an economically disadvantaged person overcoming the odds. This just probably, makes them feel a little less guilty about their privilege. And also, completely try and avoid the topic of poverty.

But let’s get some facts straight here- Jyoti’s story is not a happy one. The 15-year-old had to ride a bicycle 1300 kms to get back home. And all of this was simply due to the lack of financial and government aids. It is amazing that the world knows her story, but the way they found out and the way it was told is not good.

Her story should raise questions about our flawed system and government’s accountability. But sadly it has now become a saga of a daughter’s love, courage and dedication. A story that should make governments work so that no other girl has to be as helpless as Jyoti has become a story of inspiration.

Jyoti’s story and her courage of turning down the invitation of Cycling Federation makes us think. It shows us it is high time people stopped looking for talent from tales of human suffering in the times of pandemic.

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