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Shocked By A Student’s Rape, Teacher Starts Self-Defence Training for Girls with Disabilities

Alwar's Asha Suman has dedicated her life to imparting self-defence skills to young girls. So far, she has trained 30,000 girls across Rajasthan. This Teacher’s Day, she was conferred with the National Teacher’s Award 2023.

Shocked By A Student’s Rape, Teacher Starts Self-Defence Training for Girls with Disabilities

Trigger warning: Mentions of rape, sexual assault

Nearly nine years back in 2014, Bharti (name changed) left her home to relieve herself in the field. The minor girl has speech impairment and learning disabilities. Taking advantage of this, four village men gangraped the school-going student.

The news had left the entire village shocked and scared.

Unaware of the unfortunate incident, a teacher, Asha Suman, got to know about it the next morning when all the girl students were absent from the class and emergency chaupals (village meetings) were organised by the elderly. Distressed by the news, she rushed home.

“The family was gheraoed by the police in their home. I saw her lying on a cot with severe abdomen pain. She did not understand what had happened to her. The police kept throwing inappropriate questions at her like asking for her salwar (trousers) which she wore that day. It was so humiliating. In such cases, the rape does not happen just once. The survivor is tormented again and again,” Asha says in a conversation with The Better India.

“If only the girl knew how to protect herself, she could have been saved from the ordeal,” the 45-year-old Alwar resident says.

Since 2015, Asha has trained more than 30,000 girls from across Rajasthan.
Since 2015, Asha has trained more than 30,000 girls from across Rajasthan.

That day, while sitting with the survivor, Asha decided to dedicate her life to teaching self-defence to young girl students.

Girls should never walk in fear

Even days after the incident, Asha observed that people had stopped sending their daughters to school. “In this region, people hardly understand the importance of education and do not send their girls to school. As a consequence, even the ones who were sending their daughters to school immediately stopped them from attending,” she says.

A look at the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data paints a grim picture of crime against women in Rajasthan. The data reveals that 6,337 rape cases and 987 attempt to rape cases were reported from the state in 2021 – the highest across any other Indian state.

Of the total rape cases, 1,453 were against girls below 18 years of age. This indicates that every day, four minor girls are raped in Rajasthan, making it the most unsafe state for them.

Asha has trained 200 girls with disabilities like visual impairment, speech impairment, and deafness.
Asha has trained 200 girls with disabilities like visual impairment, speech impairment, and deafness.

Meanwhile, Asha struggled to get her female students back to school. “I went to each of their houses and I had great difficulty in convincing the families. I would explain to them for hours at end how the girls could come in groups to classes and why education was important. Often, I would accompany the girls from their homes on my two-wheeler,” she recalls.  

“It took me about two months to get them back to school,” she adds.

While the girls resumed their regular classes, Asha wanted a more concrete solution that ensured their safety. Soon after, she started teaching her students about self-defence, good touch and bad touch.

What started from her class, the initiative took new heights when the government school teacher started getting invitations from other schools and colleges in rural areas to impart self-defence training to their girls.

Since 2015, Asha has trained more than 30,000 girls from across Rajasthan. Of these, 200 students are girls with disabilities like visual impairment, speech impairment, and deafness.

One of her students, Monika, who is visually impaired, learned self-defence techniques from her last November. She tells The Better India, “Since my childhood, my brother had to accompany me everywhere I go, be it to my friend’s home or daily to the school. Everyone feared for my safety as my disability made me more vulnerable. But now, my family does not need to worry about my safety. Today, I can say that I can knock down a perpetrator within minutes.”

Asha dedicates post-school hours and holidays to training sessions.
Asha dedicates post-school hours and holidays to training sessions.

The vigour comes from within

Explaining the importance of self-defence, Asha says, “Self-defence is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical. It is just about your determination that comes from within. Girls believe that they are weak physically so they won’t be able to fight men. But if you are trained enough, you can protect yourself.”

Asha dedicates post-school hours and holidays to training sessions where each session is split into six days. Explaining her strategy to train girls with disabilities, she says, “Training them is a little different as they can only sense someone by touch while abled persons can perceive danger by seeing the perpetrator or even hearing their conversations.”

“For girls with disabilities, I utilise daily work experiences like brushing teeth or kicking a football into attack positions. By using a dummy, we tell them if they sense danger from behind them, they then could hit them by bending their elbow in a similar manner when they brush their teeth. Or they could kick them like they would kick a football. When they hit the dummy themselves, they build confidence. With training, they learn how they could convert their body into a weapon,” she says.

“However, I tell my students to try negotiations first. Par agar baaton se kaam na chale, to laaton se kaam chalao. Aur laton pe aa jaaye to jhukna nahi hai. (But when negotiations fail to work, hit them hard, and if it comes to that, then there should be no backing down),” adds the teacher.

Recalling one such incident, Asha explains how she once saw a girl dragging a chhora (boy) by his shirt’s collar and bringing him to her. “She told me how he passed comments on her. The guy apologised to us and even pledged not to flirt with any woman ever,” she says.

Asha was awarded the National Teachers’ Award 2023 by President Draupadi Murmu.
Asha was awarded the National Teachers’ Award 2023 by President Droupadi Murmu.

“It is so satisfying to see this confidence among girls. Over the years, women have come out of their homes and empowered themselves. I have seen girls coming in trucks from villages 30 km away to learn self-defence from me,” she adds.

For this work, Asha does not charge a penny. “My only guru dakshina (tuition fees of a teacher) from these students is that they pledge to take responsibility for their own safety instead of relying on someone else like their father or brothers. Every woman must know safety rules and develop safety skills irrespective of their background,” she adds.

In 2021, Asha was recognised at a State Level Teacher Award Ceremony by Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for her work. She was also conferred the Ambedkar Mahila Puraskar Award 2023. This Teacher’s Day on September 5, she was awarded the National Teacher’s Award 2023 by President Droupadi Murmu.

More than the recognition, the satisfaction that comes along with training young girls, especially those with disabilities, is paramount for Asha.

“I do this work because it gives me personal happiness. Now, I sleep peacefully knowing the girls I trained will be able to protect themselves from the humiliation that was once caused to one of my students,” she adds.

Source:

Crime In India 2021 Volume I: By National Crime Records Bureau (Ministry of Home Affairs) in August 2022.

Edited by Padmashree Pande. All photos: Asha Suman

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