Known as the ‘Dauntless Bullet Woman of Kerala’, Shyni Rajkumar is a trailblazer for modern day women in ways more than one.
A teacher, an ex-policewoman, an athlete and a former state cricket player, this 34-year-old biker is a rider with a passionate cause.
She covered over 12,000 km from Kanyakumari to Ladakh in 42 days to raise awareness about violence against women. This trip made Shyni one of the first women from Kerala to have embarked upon such a journey.
Shyni also founded Kerala’s first all-women Royal Enfield Bullet club called the ‘Dauntless Royal Explorers’ club, where she encourages women to drop all their inhibitions and teaches them to ride the Bullet and chase adventure.
Born in Thiruvananthapuram, Shyni was an athlete right from school and played at the state-level as part of the Kerala women’s cricket team.
As a young girl, Shyni would often look on awestruck as her uncle, a policeman by profession, rode his Royal Enfield Bullet patrolling the area around her Trivandrum home.
“In the back of my head I was nurturing a dream but coming from a simple middle-class family, I knew doing something different like mounting on a giant vehicle and trotting through my hometown, would invite the sly and nasty comments from people around me,” says Shyni.
Little did she know, she would break into a male bastion and become the first woman in the whole of Kerala to buy the Himalayan edition of the Royal Enfield.
As a young athlete and cricketer, Shyni would often travel or tournaments and athletic meets, and it is this passion for travel that rekindled her love for biking.
One would find it amusing and shocking at the same time that this Bullet Queen hadn’t touched a two-wheeler until college.
In fact, she first learned to ride a bicycle when she travelled to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh after completing her pre-degree from All Saints college in Trivandrum.
Given her athletic background, she took up the job of imparting physical education at a school her cousin sister taught at, in Gorakhpur. She would see children cycling long distances to reach school every day. So she decided to learn it too. Once she mastered the art, Shyni was the only teacher who would cycle to the homes of her students and meet their families in faraway villages.
She was finally in a place, where women riding bikes were not frowned upon or called ‘arrogant’ or ‘manly’ like in her hometown. It was then that she transitioned from riding cycles to travelling on two-wheelers like TVS Victor and Bajaj Pulsar and finally riding an old Royal Enfield Bullet.
Shyni’s childhood dreams were slowly coming true. She was recruited to the Delhi police in 2003 but quit the job in a few months to return to Kerala.
The neighbourhood in Kerala Shyni belonged to made her abandon her passion for biking for a while. People would ridicule and mock her for trying to prove she was a woman too bold for her times, who rode bikes and returned home when she pleased, basically trying to rub shoulders with men.
Years later, when asked about the how the perspective of these people has changed, Shyni simply laughs saying, “The same people who ridiculed me, now ride pillion on my bike.”
Her father owned a Hero Honda back in the day, but she found it difficult to gather the courage to ride it. It was at the time, her cousin brother Jayaprakash spoke to her and encouraged her to let go of her inhibitions.
He told her, “Shyni, your eyes sparkle with a passion when you mount that bike. Stop conforming to the whims of the world. You love riding, so go ride that bike. ”
From the old Hero Honda to a Pulsar, a Passion and finally a standard Bullet (that she owned with her brother Reni), there was no looking back for this woman biker.
“I had always been a very straightforward person who when ridiculed or rebuked in public would fight back. But my anna told me, ‘If they talk, let them. Listen from one ear and let the things that bring you down go out from the other ear.’ So, I ignored the stares and let the nasty comments fall on deaf ears.”
She attributes her success as a rider to her parents, especially the men in her life including her husband, brothers and relatives.
Starting Kerala’s first all-women bikers club, ‘Dauntless Royal Explorers’ was a major challenge for Shyni.
“When girls would walk up to me appreciating my biking adventures, they would ask me to teach them. I wasn’t confident enough to take up the role of a teacher. But my husband told me, to not shy away from teaching and helping any girl who came to me for help.”
This club changed the mindsets of people at large that women were capable of chasing their adventure and helped women who thought they couldn’t ride bullets, which they certainly could. All they had to do was dare.
Today, over 30 women are part of the bikers club, and the number is only growing.
It was one of one such trip that Shyni rode her Royal Enfield Himalayan to the home of deceased Soumya, who was subjected to brutal rape and mutilation after being thrown off a passenger train from Ernakulam to Shornur on February 1, 2011.
The story of Soumya and rising rape cases across the country rattled her to the extent that it became the turning point of her life. She decided to come back home with one agenda on her mind ‘to embolden the girls and women of Kerala and India.’
She decided to embark on the 50-day 12,000 km trip from Kanyakumari to Ladakh called ‘Azaadi’ to raise awareness on women empowerment and stop violence against women.
The ride was flagged off from Manaveeyam Veedhi, a cultural corridor in Thiruvananthapuram on July 16 and Shiny completed the trip in less than 42 days.
“In my way, I decided to motivate women across India to not bear discrimination, instead, step up, come out of their shells and raise their voice,” she says.
She began the journey with two or her biker friends, Nash from Kannur and Anup from Kozhikode, both of whom parted ways at Leh. She halted at various places, with placards, slogans and speeches to get her message across to as many people and also portray Hindu-Christian-Muslim solidarity.
This 12,000 km ride was not all smiles. She remembers the very first day, she met with a minor accident, near the Kerala border, travelling from Madurai to Tirunelveli.
“I was emotional when I left home because this was going to be a long trip away from home. Tears were brimming in my eyes when the bullet skid after hitting a stone. I fell, and the oil from my bullet started leaking. I cried thinking the very first day was going to be the end of my biking career. There was blood oozing from my mouth, and I was unsure if I could move my right hand. But luckily I sustained minor injuries,” she recalls.
The first day on the longest trip of her life and her bike was damaged beyond repair. She knew that she couldn’t spend all her funds repairing the bike, so she got in touch with the Regional Service Manager of Enfield, Bino Job, who made a pact to reach out and help her in case of any difficulty or help. She asked Bino to make minimalistic repairs just to get the bike working.
“Bino was extremely understanding of my ordeal. He sent two of his service boys from their Tirunelveli service centre, almost a 60kms away from my accident spot, who travelled with me across three villages to arrange the transport to get my bullet to the service centre,” she says.
She was in for the biggest surprise of her life when the repair costs came up to over Rs 30000, and Bino Job decided not to charge her a single rupee.
Shyni recalls the incident saying, “It was a rollercoaster of emotions to experience this selfless act of sheer kindness from somebody I hardly knew. I remember Bino telling me, ‘Shyni, the money you will land up spending is the hard earned money you have saved to make the trip possible. I cannot charge you. Go and reach out your message to as many people as you can.’
The only money she spent that day was the cost of an extra day’s stay in Madurai.
Shyni encourages girls and women across India to fight discrimination by not giving up in the face of adversity.
“Don’t wait for someone to rush to your rescue. Be your hero. Buckle up and train yourself both physically and mentally to fight against violence. Don’t let anybody dictate gender roles to you. You are strong, fearless and everything you want to be. Believe in yourself and the world will see, you reaching places, you are destined to be.”