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Self-defence can save women from street attacks

Monday, 3 March 2014 - 7:48pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: dna

‘Rape’, the much-dreaded word, was brought alive in its stark reality on primetime television by Aamir Khan in Satyamev Jayate on Sunday morning as anyone familiar with the system will concede that women’s safety in India is a serious concern. As the shocking Delhi rape in December 2012 showed that it is no more the kind of thing that does not happen to ‘people like us’.

Satyamev Jayate’s episode on rape covered all the problem areas — police apathy, medical practitioners’ indifference, the long-winding court proceedings and society-family pressure. But one crucial aspect I feel they missed is how to empower women to protect themselves when they are attacked. They did not talk about ‘self-defence’.

A simple way to get out of a threatening situation is to counter-attack the attacker. I agree this sounds much easier said than done. But, it is not that difficult either. There are multiple ‘self-defence techniques’, which do not necessarily require physical strength or ‘bashing up’ the attacker to escape a difficult situation.

Martial arts is one of the solutions. Agreed, the access to such suave techniques may be a privilege for the urbanites. But that is the precise reason why a show like Satyamev Jayate, watched widely across linguistic barriers in the country, should have talked about it.

About three years ago, I was attacked around 8.30 pm on my way home on a heavily trafficked road in one of the poshest areas of Ahmedabad. It was a case of simple road rage. There was no accident, no one was hurt, no vehicles even touched each other. He wanted to overtake from the left in bumper-to-bumper traffic and I held my ground. Just a bad day for my attacker I guess. He pulled me by the hair in a moving car through the driver’s window. Incidentally, two cops witnessed the attack, not to mention at least a thousand bystanders, who dropped whatever they were doing to watch the show. But none came forward to stop the attacker. There was injury, but thankfully, not very serious.

What this simple incident made me feel was deeply, disgustedly helpless. I had to quietly bear the pain. And, in fact, in that moment of pain, the thought that crossed my mind is I’d let him do whatever he wants because if I protest, I would hurt myself even more.

That moment, I was disgusted and hated being such a coward. I understood the meaning of the word ‘rape’, ‘domestic violence’...and how these women would possibly feel. I was deprived of all the purported advantages of an urban upbringing, education, et al. That moment, I could have been a teenager being groped on a crowded Delhi bus or a docile daughter-in-law being raped in a village in West Bengal.

One of the activists on the show very appropriately surmised that rape is not so much about sexual gratification as it is about power. Rapists/attackers necessarily target women they believe would not be able to successfully fight their way out of the situation — simply because they are the ‘weaker sex’.

Refusing to be cowed down, in the last two years, I’ve learnt wing tsun — a form of martial arts with a focus on self-defence. And, I can therefore say with confidence now that it is possible for every woman to learn the basics of self-defence — which is not advance martial arts but pure common sense, presence of mind and confidence — geared towards the singular goal of saving oneself.

Popular celebrities should talk about these simple self-defence techniques. It should be displayed often on television like adverts in public interest. Even Mahatma Gandhi did not entirely succeed in changing the mindset of society. While we wait for that to happen, can we be sitting ducks as our women are assaulted and butchered?

Aggression against women is more common than urban India would like to accept. Road rage, eve-teasing, groping in public spaces is as common as cappuccino in a coffee shop. How do you deal with this?

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