The role of women in Indian society has long been one defined by patriarchal constructs. In a country where the female divine is worshipped for her nurturing power, capable of creation and destruction, blessing and curse, the Indian woman is rarely as readily respected in the eye of the public. Even as the perception of women across the globe has begun to evolve with the accessibility and growth of gender-education and sensitivity in pop-culture, the battle for equality is one that rages on, led by powerful women who are determined to make a change. One such badass woman is 17-year-old Anagha Ravi of Fly Squad Skateboarding, known affectionately to us here at TheVibe as the Saree-Clad Skater.
“I find inspiration in other girl skateboarders and B-girls. I watch their videos a lot.” Anagha explains, “As a girl, seeing another girl doing things I wanted to do was enough to get me going, and I believe I have inspired at least one of them in this way myself!”
Activism, as with most important things in life, is not something one decides to do, but rather is compelled towards by circumstance and a sense of responsibility. Like most female activists, Anagha’s journey to becoming the powerful thought leader she is today, was not one she ever expected to undertake.
Born in the commercial port city of Kochi, Kerala, Anagha soon discovered her love for the speed and thrill of being on a skateboard. Finding her footing within the community was no easy task, but the young girl soon lost herself within the nuances of the South Indian hip-hop community.
“I had a real love for the streets, and for hip-hop culture.” Anagha reveals.
It was so that about three years ago, Anagha began researching and practicing break dancing, a pastime she would soon turn into a career of empowerment and upliftment, both for herself and the community within which she resided.
Empowerment and Hip-Hop Culture
The genre of Hip-Hop originated in America in the 70’s as a form of self-expression and rebellion against societal injustice amongst the inner-city African-American and Latino-American populations. Since then, the genre has traversed the globe, becoming a voice for the voiceless and a means of rebellion against the powers that be, on behalf of the oppressed. One of the four pillars upon which Hip-Hop culture was built, breakdancing has been slowly rising in popularity and gaining momentum in the Indian market.
From windmills to krumping, klowning and twerking, the introduction of breaking into Indian mainstream culture gave rise to a new generation of Indian B-Boys and B-Girls with the talent and skill to match any of those of the West.
A testament to the infiltration of the style in India, the 16th edition of the RedBull BC One Finals, the world’s largest one-on-one B-Boy and B-Girl competition, took place in Mumbai in the latter half of 2019. Of the thousands of global entrants to the competition, the final 16 B-Boys and B-Girls competed for a chance to be crowned champion.
Anagha, who is a B-Girl and an opinion leader for RedBull, has used her influence to inspire and motivate the next generation of skateboarders, B-Boys and B-girls into charting their own courses, and tackling life with the rebellious spirit and unwavering dedication of the global hip-hop community at large. However, the road to self-empowerment was not one that was without its trials for the young girl.
Admitting that she received a lot of support from both her family, and the skate and hip-hop communities, Anagha reveals that not everyone looked upon her new hobbies as kindly.
“The society we lived in wasn’t really happy about me doing things they perceived as masculine.” Anagha explains, “They even started saying bad things about me to my family, and to others.”
However, idle small-town gossip and bad-mouthing were not going to hinder the headstrong B-Girl, who, supported by the love and acceptance of her parents, chose to turn the tables on societal expectations and rise to fame on her own terms. When asked what skating and breaking mean to her, Anagha’s response was short, true and authentically herself.
“These two things complete me as a person,” she says, “they make me a happy human being.”
The Saree-Clad Skater
The 17-year-old Anagha first caught our eye when we happened across the powerful image of a girl in a black saree and sneakers, captured mid-flip upon her skateboard, with a coy smile playing at the corners of her lips. The image, captured by photographer Yaami, who specialises in capturing the authentic beauty of Indian women and nature, perfectly encapsulates Anagha’s carefree manner.
Their first interaction, like many in the 21st century, began on Instagram, when Yaami approached the young skater for a shoot after having watched her skate.
“I felt like this shoot might help make a difference in the scene,” Anagha explains, “that it might inspire more girls to come skate, no matter what people would think.”
As we talk, Anagha reveals that the shoot had a particular effect on her own perception of the sport, and of women in Indian society. The saree itself, she explains, took on the form of a living metaphor for the invisible restrictions placed upon her.
“Skating in a saree isn’t that hard if you cope with it.” Anagha explains, “The saree is just like the society we live in, and I wanted to show that we could do anything, even without removing it from the equation. All we have to do is get it together and jump.”
As our conversation draws to a close, Anagha explains that the world of skating and breaking is already growing in its acceptance of female athletes.
“I am really happy to see the growing number of female skateboarders in our community.” Anagha explains, “People have already started understanding that this doesn’t define a gender, that these things can be done by anyone. I am sure that more and more girls will be joining our ranks.”
As we part ways, Anagha leaves us with a touching message.
“To the parents, and also to anyone who may become a parent someday, all that your children need from you is support.” Anagha says, “Having their parents by their side can make them stronger and more determined to follow their passion. If you support them, nothing can demotivate them.”
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