Sana Iqbal: Biker who took mission of combating suicide and depression to the road in India

The mental health advocate turned a failed attempt to take her own life into a mission to put depression on the map

Chantal da Silva
Monday 13 November 2017 13:43
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Iqbal rode solo through 111 cities in her own country and Nepal with her message emblazoned on the back of her bicycle
Iqbal rode solo through 111 cities in her own country and Nepal with her message emblazoned on the back of her bicycle

Sana Iqbal was a dedicated mental health advocate who used her love of motorcycling to take her message on the road, raising awareness around depression and suicide in her native India. Iqbal garnered much press attention when she set off on a solo motorcycle ride through all of India’s states and Nepal in November 2015, on a shoestring budget. Her intention was to raise awareness around mental health issues. Starting in Goa, she travelled 23,000 miles across the two countries over six months, stopping in 111 towns and cities – a remarkably brave feat in a country where violence towards women is rife.

The activist, who rode with a biker group called the Wanderers, was known for carrying her message with her everywhere she went. A placard the rear of her bike reading: “Solo ride across India by a woman on bullet to raise awareness against suicide and depression. Suicide is not the solution.”

It was a cause close to Iqbal’s heart, driven by her own experience battling with suicidal thoughts. By the time she was 27, Iqbal had been suffering depression for years and had attempted to kill herself.

“I had to go to Gujarat for some work and I chose to go on my motorcycle so that I could die under the wheels of some truck or ram into a divider or fall off a cliff,” she told the Deccan Chronicle. “I was all geared up because I needed peace and I thought death was the only solution.”

Iqbal survived the experience – and came away determined to help others on the brink of suicide, leading to a TEDx talk on the subject.

“People were genuinely concerned and they told me not to harm myself but never was I shown an alternative, a solution or a way I could follow to get out of depression,” Iqbal said. “I had to find happiness on my own.”

Iqbal giving a TEDx talk in Delhi in June 2017 on her efforts to raise awareness around suicide prevention

For Iqbal, who was 30 when she died, happiness lay out on the open road. She felt most at peace when she was out riding on her Bullet Electra 350CC.

“When you are riding you tend to forget about everything else,” she told the Deccan Chronicle. “On the highway, you are on your own – the moment you put on the helmet, you are cut off from everyone else. The first 200km was enough for me to realise that peace is not in death.”

Iqbal set up a support network via social media for other women who shared experiences similar to hers.

“Around 200 of them,” she said. “It was inspiring to discover there were others like me – fighting their own odds and limitations. They found pure joy in riding.”

That’s what prompted Iqbal to embark on her own motorcycle journey to raise awareness around suicide. Since she wasn’t backed by any sponsor, she had to use her own savings – 40,000 rupees (£475) – to zip through all of India’s states.

“I am certain that institutes might not be welcoming when I approach them. But I have to keep going on. Isn’t that what life is all about?” Iqbal said of her journey.

The biker succeeded in her mission, travelling across the country and arranging dozens of seminars in a bid to raise awareness around suicide prevention.

She also launched a Facebook page called “Suicide is not the answer”, where she provided advice to those grappling with the urge to take their own lives.

In June earlier this year, Iqbal gave a TEDx talk in Delhi entitled “A smile can save your life”.

“What is it all about? Well, suicide is not the solution is not just about suicide,” she said. “It’s about depression. It’s about how people get sad, get upset, which leads to depression, which leads to suicide, so that is what my life was all about.”

Sadly, Iqbal’s short life will be remembered in no small part for the manner of her death – her family has called on police to investigate it, accusing her husband, Abdul Nadeem, with whom she had a troubled relationship, of having “pre-planned” it.

In the early hours of 24 October, Iqbal was riding in the passenger seat of her family’s Fiat Punto in Hyderabad, where she grew up, with Nadeem, at the wheel. Police say the vehicle crashed into the guardrail, leaving Iqbal with fatal injuries. She is survived by her two-year-old son, Ali.

Sana Iqbal, mental health advocate, born 16 January 1987, died 24 October 2017

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