On weekend evenings at Mumbai’s Versova beach, rows of girls practice jabs and kicks. The girls, some aged as young as six, are learning self-defence, for free.
An initiative by martial arts instructors Alexander Fernandes and Ishita Sharma, the classes began in January.
Alexander Fernandes run his own studio, Life Institute of Tai Chi, Martial Arts and Healing Research Centre, while Ishita Sharma is an actor and runs AAMAD, a dance, martial arts and yoga studio.
The idea for free self-defence classes came about when Ishita faced an incident of eve teasing and stalking in her neighbourhood. She was being followed by two men on bikes while she was driving her car. Despite stopping or trying to move faster, they caught up and wouldn’t go away. “In the next moment, I found myself shouting at them with the window almost rolled down, and in the next second, they were gone,” she shares on her Facebook post. “When they know you have courage, they too are scared. I think the one thing that we need at this point is the courage to stand up, to make some noise.” She added that she got this courage because she took self-defence lessons at Fernandes’ studio.
Once she realised how training in self-defence can help boost confidence and courage, she knew what had to be done next. Partnering up with Fernandes, the two of them met municipal school authorities and parents to inform them about the upcoming self-defence classes. While some of them seemed disinterested, some of them were only suspicious. “The classes were to start on January 16, but no one turned up. We then returned to the schools and had the teachers speak to the kids asking them to try a class,” he said in a quote to Midday.
Keeping the classes free of cost ensured that even lesser privileged girls can join. While there was still hesitation among parents, the number of girls who came forward for the classes started going up.
Before starting with the classes, the duo had an opening-up session with the girls. They discovered that most of them had been physically abused. But once they began their classes, their confidence levels shot up. As Vaishali Naikre, a single mother of a girl who attends the classes, says, “My daughter is very protective about her brother. I can see she has grown stronger and more confident.”