Hit before you run

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 8.03.13
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“It was midnight. Amanda felt like going for a walk. So she did. The end.” That’s a cartoon strip — titled Feminist Utopia Fantasy Story — which has just gone viral on Facebook. Taking a walk at midnight is not something that women in India can think of. But increasingly — in the aftermath of a series of brutal sexual attacks across the country — women are doing all that they can to protect themselves.

Take N. Vanathy, a physiotherapist at the Chennai-based Radiant group of companies. She goes home on her bike every night and is not nervous about it. But that’s because she has been learning martial art moves taught by experts from the Chennai Budokai Martial Arts Association in her office.

“It is important to prepare yourself for any eventuality,” says Vanathy, as she learns ways to ward off attacks with an arm twist, a wrist bend and a hand punch.

Ever since the gang rape and death of a Delhi physiotherapist in December, 2012, self-defence workshops have mushroomed across cities.

Organisations are also being set up to train women to fight back. Delhi resident Sakshi Kumar started Justice for Women (JFW) with three other activists on July 15, 2012 — a day after 40 men molested a woman in Guwahati. “It was so shocking that I could not sleep that night,” says Kumar.

Earlier she had to persuade women to attend JFW’s workshops; now there is a demand from women themselves, she says. JFW held its first workshop in Chennai in September 2012, followed by Chandigarh and Pune. On the anvil are Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Calcutta.

Calcutta-based Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman also holds workshops that educate women on ways to defend themselves with everyday objects such as combs, hair pins, deodorants and ballpoint pens. “We teach women to analyse a situation so that they know when to attack or when to talk their way out,” she says.

Among the groups conducting such workshops is the Delhi-based Trident Tactical Solutions Ltd. Its four-hour workshop imparts basic tips to sharpen individual reflexes and identify possible threats, says Rajesh Dhahiwal, director.

Anand Mohan, technical director, Budokai Martial Arts Association, says that someone under attack should apply strength intelligently and hit at the critically weak spots — eyes, ears, knee, ankles and groin — with anything handy such as slippers and bags. “Use your fingernails or rings. Poke him in the eye, disable him temporarily and run,” he says.

“The idea is not to freeze when faced with an ugly situation,” adds S. Sreeram, Chennai-based Krav Maga expert, who is running workshops for women employees of different companies.

Krav Maga, created and used by the Israeli military, relies on reflex action instead of the defender’s size and strength to attack an enemy. “That is why the fighting art is gaining popularity among women,” says Franklin Joseph, who has been training people in Krav Maga in Bangalore.

Krav Maga trainers have also been conducting sessions for the Delhi-based Street Level Awareness Programme (SLAP). Among the participants at one such session, attended by Delhi resident Bela Gupta and her two daughters, was a woman on a wheelchair. “She wanted to use her hands to protect herself while her legs were paralysed,” says Gupta.

Dave Chakrabarti, trainer at Devburman’s studio, stresses that participants have to consider various techniques. “One should know how to get away when being pulled into a waiting vehicle, grabbed by the hand or wrist, choked, or attacked on the ground,” he says. Among the many tips that women receive are on ways to use simple objects to stall their assailant — keys can be used as a weapon and pepper can be sprayed into the eyes.

The private sector too is concerned about women’s safety. Joseph says he has conducted a three-and-a-half-hour programme for 45 companies in Bangalore, including Infosys, Fidelity and General Electric.

The Jaypee Group recently organised self-defence training sessions for its female employees. “The workshop gave us the confidence to handle unexpected situations,” says Rubina Sharma, Jaypee’s deputy manager, sales.

Knowledge processing unit Evalueserve provides its women employees with pepper sprays when they join. They are given self-defence training every year. Security is provided for women who leave the office after 7.30 pm, and CCTV cameras keep a watch on those working late or alone.

Efforts are on to train students too. Young Indians (Yi), a part of the Confederation of Indian Industry, has been holding workshops in schools and colleges.

“We have asked our 26 city chapters to engage students in learning self-defence,” says Virendra Gupta, deputy director general, Yi.

Government organisations are also working on safeguarding their women. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC), which employs 9,000 women conductors, has been conducting workshops. “Arguments always break out when men sit in seats reserved for women, and conductors have to intervene. We hope these workshops will increase the confidence levels of the women,” says M. Ravinder, director, HRD, APSRTC.

There’s bustle in West Bengal too.

The state government will hold a self-defence programme today, while the state’s Women’s Commission will organise a workshop on Saturday.

Indeed, some believe that self-defence workshops are not enough: women have to build up their stamina and strength. “If you don’t build up your strength or practise these moves, the workshops are irrelevant,” says Mohan of Budokai. “Participating in self-defence workshops cannot make women heroes overnight.” Not heroes, perhaps — and certainly not overnight. But it may just thwart the villains.