The number of girls jumping on skateboards in India has been growing, pointing to a rise in the love of the sport, largely thanks to Bangalore-based Girls Skate India. For Indian girls, however, skateboarding is a lot more than just a leisurely activity – it’s a means to carve space for themselves in Indian public space.

Atita Vergheses is often credited as the first female skateboarder in India. Raised in Bangalore in Southern India, Vergheses first started skateboarding in 2013 at the age of 19. In 2015, Vergheses helped found Girls Skate India, an organization that aims to encourage Indian girls to learn how to skateboard as a means to promote gender equality and challenge stereotypical gender norms.

Following the initiative’s first year, 12 female skateboarders went on a tour of four Indian cities to promote female skateboarding and the work that Girls Skate India does around the country. The organization believes skateboarding can also be used as a means to get girls to return to school and to empower underprivileged girls.

The girls who skate with Girls Skate India are aged between 8 and 15 years old, some of whom come from as far as Kovalam, a small fishing village some 700 kilometers (535 miles) away from Bangalore. For these girls, skating has become a sport that enables them to exist in India’s public space, where girls and women often find themselves ostracized, conditioned, and shamed in.

Public space in India is difficult to navigate for women. Coming from a society that is heavily premised on traditional understandings of gender and gender norms, Indian women aren’t typically ‘allowed’ to inhabit public spaces as their male counterparts are. And while Indian women inevitably exist in public space, their experience is tainted by harassment, catcalling, and countless other distasteful experiences.

“[Parents] don’t allow their [girls] to take up all these activities at all,” said K. Shailaja, the founder and principal at Bengaluru’s South School to Quartz. While Indian boys are encouraged to experience their boyhood outdoors, girls are often told to stay inside, she explained.

Vergheses has brought skateboarding in India a long way since first helping found Girls Who Skate in 2015. Since the four city tour she participated in, Bangalore-based Holystoked has also been encouraging more kids to get into skateboarding. As a result of the sport’s growing popularity, there are about 17 skate-parks across India, with more in the works.

Girls Skate India

Vergheses on a skate board. (CC: Virginia Fernandes)

It hasn’t been easy for Girls Who Skate and the girl skateboarders in India to break through the cultural norms that discourage girls from skateboarding in the first place. Vergheses also told Quartz that, it is crucial to normalize the existence of girls and women in public space, which is why she is keen on starting with the youngsters.

In recent years, skateboarding has gained some credibility as an action sport, although it remains tainted by negative impressions. In spite of that, men’s and women’s skateboarding will be an official game at the 2020 Olympics.