Cycling Long Distances to Raise Funds for the Disadvantaged

  • Majid Maqbool
  • Publish Date: Jun 20 2016 10:15PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 20 2016 10:15PM
Cycling Long Distances to Raise Funds for the Disadvantaged

A Mumbai based Kashmiri lawyer cycled 3000 km for 14 days in March, raising 26 Lakh for meritorious students  

Mirza Saaib Bég, a Mumbai based Kashmiri lawyer, is a Gold Medalist graduate of India’s premiere law university, NALSAR University of Law, where he was the first and only Kashmiri to be elected as President of the Student Union at NALSAR University. A recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s medal as best male graduate with leadership qualities, Bég is currently engaged as a legal officer advising the head-office of Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in their Legal Affairs Department in Mumbai.
Mirza is also an ultra cyclist, having completed long distance rides for charity for Kashmir up to 3000 km, raising over Rs. 40 Lakh through his charitable initiatives in the last year. In order to train for long distance rides, he cycles before and after work every day, covering up to 70km every day in Mumbai. He has won many cycling events and races, most recently the Desert 500 race which is a 500km race held in Jodhpur. He has undertaken various causes through his cycling campaigns having cycled 1200 km in 5 days to raise Rs. 10 Lakh for orphans in Kashmir in July 2015 and having raised Rs. 26 Lakh for meritorious students restrained by finances by cycling 3000 km in 14 days in March 2016, an initiative under the banner of Cause Cyclothon and the Rotary Club of Bombay Worli. He was recently awarded by the Cycling Association of Bombay District as the Best Upcoming Cyclist for the year 2015-16.

Tell us about your formative years in Kashmir and how you came to make a career in law outside the state?
As Kashmiris, we are exposed to harsh political realities from a young age and I was no exception. Our society has been reeling under the perilous effects of homogenized institutional violence and years of political unrest have caused an erosion of legitimacy of law. People no longer feel that their lives could be made better because of the government but rather despite it and the terrifyingly amorphous behaviour of our leaders leaves little to look up to. This fundamental lack of justice in Kashmir ranging from dysfunctional relations with the state administration to a complete breakdown of administrative machinery pushed me to consider means that I could employ to make a difference. Law as a profession trains for reform and its tuition is predominantly opinionated, vocational and ideological. Kashmir was, and continues to be, in need of a catharsis on various fronts and I decided to study law with the objective of eventually using my education and resources to play a role in this purgative exercise. Having met many Kashmiris living away from home due to the economic and political situation there, I have observed that the desire to do ‘something’ for Kashmir is a feeling that is not alien to any Kashmiri. This privilege has been dearly bought as violence has become the common denominator that connects us by continuing exposure to radical loss. It is a point of poignant meditation and melancholy that we are all so connected by our pain.

How and when did you take to cycling for charitable initiatives and raising funds for the needy in Kashmir?   
In a place like Kashmir it is easy to come across outrage. However, it is not easy to channelize that outrage into proactive and positive action as this takes time, effort, money and other resources. Luckily, I’ve found some individuals who are willing to give most, if not all, of these requirements. Undertaking ultra cycling activities for charity gives me the satisfaction of having tried to make a perceptible and positive difference to a severely dilapidated place that I call home.  The circumstances surrounding Kashmir infuriated me and I was keen on playing my role in the post-flood efforts. I had been cycling for a few years and I wanted to merge my love for cycling with my desire to effect change in Kashmir, howsoever small. So I decided to apply myself to a cycling campaign and raise funds for the less fortunate. 

How were you attracted towards cycling and using it for raising funds for orphanages in Kashmir and for the disadvantaged students outside the state?
I have always been athletic and by this time I had already identified cycling as a platform that allowed me to connect with most people and impact a much larger area. To begin, I wanted to raise funds for an orphanage in Kashmir, Rahat Manzil, Bemina, as they had suffered heavy losses in the flood. So I initiated the first phase of Cause Cyclothon under the aegis of Rotary Club of Bombay Worli. In July, 2015, I cycled 1200 km from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and back in 5 days and raised Rs. 10 Lakh for educational initiatives at the orphanage and for supporting the Jaipur Foot beneficiaries. I also launched phase two in March 2016, where I cycled 3000 km and raised 26 Lakh rupees for students restrained by finances, covering the distance from Mumbai to Hyderabad to Bangalore to Kochi to Kozhikode to Manipal to Goa to Pune and then back to Mumbai in 14 days by cycle.

How many people joined you in the Cause Cyclothon and what kind of funds have you been able to raise till now?
 We have raised over Rs. 40 Lakh rupees in one year through our efforts in Cause Cyclothon, all of which has been donated for educational initiatives and supporting those who are less fortunate than the people who support us. In this journey I’ve met thousands of people throughout the thousands of kilometres I’ve cycled and it’s been a wonderful exercise where we have attempted to showcase ground realities about Kashmir and solicited help from the most common people living in India. Our attempt has been to humanize the issues Kashmir is facing and when we engage in a logical dialogue with educated people our experience has shown that with a little effort, irrespective of political ideologies, you’ll always find people willing to support a good cause.  I realise that cycling over thousands of kilometres in a few days takes tremendous physical toll and endurance, and I’ve trained myself for it. But when I think of how tough it is for those orphans in Kashmir to obtain money for a basic education or when I consider the plight of common people in my homeland, my suffering pales in comparison and I derive some courage to push myself further during training. Each time I cover a distance longer than before, I feel I can and will go further next week.

Which states have you covered in the Cyclothon till now and how has been the experience of cycling through all these different places?
 It been a wonderful experience meeting new people everywhere and talking to them about Kashmir and the other social issues that we are working on. I’ve covered Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa till now and I’ve asserted dominance over my body, nature, mountains, deserts and insects in all these places (haha). Jokes apart, it’s been a process of personal discovery and at each place, when I talk about ground realities in Kashmir, I am met with new questions and the process helps me identify refreshed approaches to our basic problems. I’ve learnt so many different languages, had different food all over and thoroughly enjoyed testing the limits of my mind and body. 

Do you see a lot of scope for encouraging cycling in Kashmir?
 I do see a lot of scope for it in Kashmir, given that we live in a fragile ecological zone where fossil fuel use ought to be discouraged. Kashmir doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to promote cycling in the valley. It just needs to be presented as the most convenient transport and people will see the benefits.

What are the other advantages of cycling and how can cities like Srinagar become cycle friendly?
Once cycling is presented as a convenient way to get around, which not only profits by way of financial saving but also health benefits, the masses will take to the cycle. I would even recommend you all to cycling regularly, Marchbe even to office. I do it every day in Mumbai. You know how you have to drive your car in stop-and-go traffic to get to work every morning? Well, imagine if you didn't have to stop like that. And imagine your car going as fast as you can make it go. And imagine starting every day feeling perfect and alive. Cycling is kind of like that. To comprehend how little we need to become a cycle-friendly city, contrast this  crores, that we spend yearly on road building, with the fact that in UK average annual government expenditure on cycling in the UK was £1 per person (Rs. 100) for the entire country. Incidentally £1 is considered to be quite low by most European standards where the annual government expenditure on cycling is about €25 per person (Rs. 1800). Studies show that every kilometer cycled in Denmark earns the country €0.23 (Rs. 17). The number would be much higher but cyclists are infamous for being spendthrifts to pamper their cycles. According to an article in the Business Insider, in the Danish capital, which came in at number two on the Copenhagenize Index, cycling is not a way to burn calories – it is simply a "fast form of pedestrianism," and the quickest way to get around. It's about convenience, more than personal health or fighting global warming. Cycling is most definitely a big part of the future. It has to be. According to Bill Nye, a.k.a 'the Science Guy', “there's something wrong with a society that drives a car to workout in a gym.”