“We Can’t Give the Bike to Ladies. We’re Not Sure You Can Ride It”

I showed them my driving licence but the salesperson asked. “Madam, what is your height?”

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Sudatta Khuntia was denied a test drive for a bike she was interested in buying. (Sudatta Khuntia) 

Two-wheelers make me feel like I’m a free bird. The first time I drove a geared bike was in 1994 when I was in class 10 – it belonged to my brother.

In college, I was given a Scooty but my heart always belonged to the motorcycle. My work involved visiting rural areas, especially villages in the interiors of Odisha, and this was possible only with a bike.

I drive a second hand Yamaha RX 100 that my husband gifted to me. But lately, I’ve been planning to buy a new bike.

Sudatta and with her trusty second-hand Yamaha RX 100. (Photo: Sudatta Khuntia)
Sudatta and with her trusty second-hand Yamaha RX 100. (Photo: Sudatta Khuntia)
Yamaha RX 100. (Photo Courtesy: Sudatta Khuntia)
Yamaha RX 100. (Photo Courtesy: Sudatta Khuntia)

My brother-in-law and I drove to Cuttack to check out a particular model that I had zeroed in on.

At the showroom, we went to the support/sales desk and asked for a test drive. They asked us to wait while the motorcycle was being readied.

Soon, they called us to the workshop area. When I sat on the bike and asked for the key, the workshop workers asked, “Madam, will you drive this?” As I said yes, the salespeople, along with the workshop workers, disappeared.

I went to the front desk to enquire and was astonished when the salesperson said:

Sorry madam, we can’t give the vehicle to ladies. You can try the scooter while the gentleman accompanying you can test drive this bike.

I objected and asked if there was any rule that prohibits women from riding bikes.

I was told:

No madam. There is no such written rule but we are not sure if you can drive a motorcycle. Can you show me your driving licence?

I showed them my driving licence but was met with reluctance again. The salesperson asked, “Madam, what is your height?”

I objected to these questions and said, “I don’t like this treatment and I’ll buy the bike from somewhere else.”

As I was about to walk out, one of the salespersons approached me and apologised, “We have never had women customers looking for motorcycles, hence the issue. Please take your test drive.”

Even as the drama unfolded, men and women stared. I felt like I was in a circus act. As I drove back, I wondered, “Is it such a big deal for a woman to ride a bike in this country? Have times really changed?”

(Sudatta Khuntia is a Bhubaneswar-based child rights and education activist.)

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