Long ago in a country called India, there lived a girl called Nirbhaya. She was gang-raped and left to die. Enraged by the brutality of the incident, her country-men rose up in multitude against her offenders. They held rallies and spoke fiercely to render her justice. And then there was silence. Few years later there was a girl called Jisha in the other corner of the country who met an equally merciless fate. They woke up again to demand justice for Nirbhaya and Jisha. Then again silence took over them. Caught up amidst these alternating periods of voices, noises and radio silences, the Nirbhayas and Jishas never found an ending to their stories, forget about a happy ending.
Take me not for someone who is mocking at you for voicing your concerns along with a crowd and then forgetting about it. I do understand that your intentions are noble. I have the greatest reverence for each one of you who feel such kindness for a fellow being in an otherwise self-centered world busy with its own cause. I talk because like you I am pained too and I am compelled to talk. There were a lot of Jishas before Nirbhaya and there are going to be a lot of Nirbhayas after Jisha. If what the National Crime Records Bureau says is right at least 93 women are raped in India every day. And what I see is a lot of opinions all around about who is right, who is wrong, what is right and what is wrong. I see a long list of suggestions on how parents should or should not impart morality in their children, how girls should or should not dress, how the laws should be or should not be changed. I also see someone make a controversial documentary and then we hear another long list of why and why-not. But what I do not see is what we really need.
Not too long ago, in the same country and in another corner I went out on a morning walk. It was 6 AM in the morning and it was already a bright day. I was walking on one of those familiar lanes frequented by joggers every day. I saw two men on the road ahead, one walking in front of me and the other walking towards me. Given their pace, they seemed to be on their morning walk too. A few seconds later I slowed down to stretch myself. Now the one who was walking ahead of me took a turn and I was left alone with the one walking towards me. I started walking again and I noticed that he had slowed down as if he was waiting for me to go past him. Unperturbed I took a few more steps towards him and then I saw him taking something out of his pocket. It did not take me too long to realize that it was a pocket knife and I knew I was in soup. I had hardly 10 seconds to act before I come face to face with him. I decided to stay calm, stuck to my side of the road and pretended to have not noticed neither his strange behavior nor his pocket knife. My façade fell the moment he started walking towards me. He knew I knew and stopped me in the middle of the road. I had no choice but confront him. He threatened me to move into an abandoned land beside the road. I stood my ground and asked him what he wanted, not that I was ready to give whatever he asked for. I was only buying myself some time until another passerby arrived. Unfortunately for me, no one came and I had less time in hand. Help came in the form of dogs. I saw two dogs across the road and was desperately looking for their owner to come in sight. My shift in focus towards the road distracted him and I took it to my advantage to push him down. I ran few meters, stopped at a safer point and turned to check what happened of him. I saw him jumping over the wall in the dead end of the road and vanishing into the barren land beyond the wall.
I called the police. They arrived after a while and of course they did not find anything substantial to find the culprit. I don’t blame them. Given the volume of crimes around, they must be over worked too. They promised to arrange patrols in the area and I do see occasional patrolling these days. Everyone who live in the area seemed surprised when they learned of the incident. It was believed to be a very safe place. I was surprised too. I had travelled alone until late into the night in foreign lands amidst strangers, but never once did I encounter such a face-off. And this was in the very backyard of the place I call home and on the roads I have been very acquainted with. What followed was a lot of angry calls and loving threats from very endearing friends of mine asking me to move out of the place to somewhere safer. I had a lot of reasons why I could not move out and this still remains a bone of contention between me and my friends. But the real reason was I knew moving out is not going to keep me safe. If I am not safe on these roads, I am not going to be safe anywhere in the world under the sun. Ask the girls who travel to schools/colleges and the women who travel to work every day about how safe they are. Their modesty and right to dignity is violated at every possible opportunity; at times in the form of inappropriate gestures and at times in the form physical violation. I know I am not safe in a bus, nor in an airport. I am not safe in my office and not even in my own home. So instead of moving out I promised myself that I will do what it takes to keep myself safe.
There began my hunt for the classes for defense against street harassment. I had called a few places and checked on their prices. Most of these places are priced high and not affordable to everyone. Although I could afford it, the places were far off and their timings can be very inconvenient. There are indeed some genuine trainers who do train women for free, however they did not have enough strength to start the classes in the area. I know it sounds like reasons I came up with for not sticking to my promises, but I ask you to keep me out of the picture now. While we talk so much about women empowerment, shouldn’t we also empower our women to fight for themselves against such violence? While we insist on education to girl children, shouldn’t we also train them to prepare themselves physically and mentally to face the tough world out there? While we have a lot of work being done for the rehabilitation of victims of such cruelties, why do we do so less about preventing such crimes. If laws were to contain crimes, this world would have been synonymous with heaven. No, I am not saying stop making laws. All I am saying is we can’t protect her all the time, but we can and we must enable her to protect herself.
So here is what I suggest:
1) Impart self-defense training as a mandatory part of curriculum for children in school
2) The women SHGs (Self Help Groups) have been a phenomenal success in the financial empowerment of women in rural sector. Set up such SHGs for training women in self-defense.
3) Set up free self-defense training centers in every village and every area in the urban sector.
4) Corporates must have free self-defense coaches for their employees.
5) Encourage NGOs and voluntary organizations to work on enabling women through self-defense.
6) Promote awareness of self-defense and the availability of these options among women.
I can hear some of your thoughts on the probability of an increase in the incidence of domestic violence against men, but then no cure is completely fail-safe. We will need to learn to administer the perfect dosage.
If you live in Chennai and are looking for some options for self- defense, below are some of your options. If you live in another city and know of such available options, please leave the contacts in the comments for the benefit of the readers.