Meenal Jain, a woman entrepreneur of Indian origin who runs an IT company in London, is a naturist/activist and blogger who goes by the nom-de-plume of Lady Godiva. She became the first Indian girl to take part in WNBR 2016 – the World Nude Bike Ride 2016, an international clothing-optional bike ride fest, where participants come together to ride bikes or bicycles with an aim to ‘deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world. Here is a special report.

The World Naked Bike Ride (or WNBR) – as the name suggests, attracts participants from all over the world, who come together to take part in riding mobikes or bicycles, with clothing being optional. In this semi-annual international bike ride fest, participants ride together to peacefully protest issues including body image, cyclists’ safety and alternative lifestyles, oft reported as the largest nudist protest in the world. Many ride naked with no clothes and no shoes on, covering only their heads. The flexibility of participating naked is in line with the dress code motto, ‘bare as you dare.’   Two major causes the event aims at is the promotion of body image, and cyclist safety. It also aims at reducing car-usage and making society a better place to live in. India was first represented in this semi-annual event in 2016 by Meenal Jain.

The WNBR has been taking place for several years now, in various cities of Australia and the UK, as well as other global cities. Initially, the event was organised to protest against the oil dependency and also celebrate the power and individuality of the human body. Various forms of Body art like body painting are the most common form of creative expression here, as do costumes, art bikes, portable sound reinforcement systems such as public address systems, bullhorns and boom boxes, and musical instruments or other types of noisemakers.   Creative expressions are also used as ancillary concepts designed to generate an entertaining and immersive atmosphere during the ride, capturing the attention and imagination of the general public and the media.

Currently, Pre- and post-ride parties for WNBRs have become events unto themselves, often featuring musical bands, DJs, body painting, temporary structures/installation art, political tabling, and catering. In addition to simply being able to ride clothes-free on community streets, some rides have established precedent by having body-painting parties, often involving numbers of naked riders and artists in high-visibility municipal parks.

Prior to the advent of WNBR, there were various organizations holding such bike rides. At that time, two independent organizations — AFP/AAW and Manifestación Ciclonudista — had been organising similar events with virtually identical messages of protest against oil dependency. In Germany such rides were regularly organized by FKK organizations (Freikörperkultur), while in Spain rides were organized by the Ciclonudista. In Canada rides were regularly organized by Artists against War. Despite having similar political messages none of these groups knew of the existence of the other until collaboration began before the first WNBR event.

In 2003, Conrad Schmidt, Canadian social activist, filmmaker and writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia, conceived the idea of the World Naked Bike Ride, after organising the Naked Bike Rides of the group Artists for Peace/Artists against War (AFP/AAW).   Soon, the WNBR rapidly started to come to life through collaborations with activist groups and individuals around the world participating in larger numbers. The first WNBR, which took place in 2004, was a collaboration between the WNBR group riding on 12 June and Manifestación Ciclonudista in Spain riding on 19 June, establishing a precedent. The 2004 WNBR saw events in 28 cities across ten countries on four continents. Within a few years, WNBR had expanded to stage rides in 74 cities spanning 17 countries, from the United States to the United Kingdom, Australia, Hungary and Paraguay.

Presently, there are also several other famous activist organisations whose main way of getting people to pay attention to an issue is through ‘Nudity’. One such organization is FEMEN – an organisation famous for its female topless (and sometimes very close to nude) protests. Then there are PETA’s ‘Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur’ campaigns.

Meenal Jain is the first Indian girl ever to take part in such an event. This Indian girl with an amazing smile, who dared to go all nude, is certainly both bold and brave enough to drive nude in public. Now, according to a legend, Godiva was an English noblewoman of the 13th century, who rode nakedthrough the streets of Coventry, in protest against oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. So, we could say Meenal is an Indian version of British legend – riding cycles instead of horses, and doing a social service. Undoubtedly, the lady is fearless, natural and comfortable being herself without any material accouterments.

Proponents for WNBR and such related events claim that the spirit of the WNBR is to showcase nudity in a non-sexual way, as ‘Art’. Organizers urge those who are uncomfortable going naked or who fear legal scuffles simply not to go fully nude. For these very reasons, participants have been using various forms of body-art such as the body paint, liquid latex, strategically placed items, underwear and duct tape to cover their intimate parts. By giving a lot of scope for expressing and experimenting with individuality and creativity, the event lives up to what it promotes. Needless to say, WNBR has faced legal hurdles while trying to tear down cultural barriers. There have been a few instances of arrests and charges against participants for ‘indecent exposure and lewdness’ and ‘disorderly conduct’ among other things.

In today’s materialistic world, it is all the more important to highlight key issues and bring them to the fore, to increase awareness. Sometimes, these efforts are in vain as they tend to be very generic or small-scale. We may disagree with the ways, but we must admit that such are many times better than violent protests. In this context the naked body represents both vulnerability and strength, disarmed yet empowered.

This is not just about nudity, but the act of becoming naked and more importantly the purpose of doing so. As long as events like the WNBR are conducted in such a way that garners the attention and at the same time do not cause any damage, they ought to be appreciated. Finally, having a woman representing India in the Lady Godiva avatar at such a progressive event for a noble cause is certainly something to be appreciated.

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