As concern for the safety of young girls continues to heighten in India, especially in big cities such as Delhi and Bangalore, it is evident that there is an urgent need for security measures to combat gender discrimination.
In response, in the fall of 2015, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) asked all its affiliated schools to teach young girls self-defense through a martial arts programs.
“These strategies cultivate in individuals the ability to remain alert yet calm at all times,” the CBSE said. “Therefore, self-defense training will assist girl students to become more aware of their surroundings and to not feel helpless in any situation.”
A dangerous environment is becoming a more common concern for girls and women. Nationally, more than 3,000 rape cases are reported each year; however, more than hundreds go unreported. According to India’s Home Minister, K.J. George, in places such as Karnataka, the number of rape cases have seemed to double from 2009 to 2014.
“Of course, the CBSE directive does not go far enough,” Goda Ram, a teacher in South India, said in a phone interview. “It will not ensure that rapes do not occur, but it is one step to begin with. Sensitizing boys is a larger issue, which is beyond the purview of this directive. That would be a wider, socio-cultural issue that will take time to show results.”
Even prior to this initiative, many schools had already begun teaching self-defense classes. Experts, such as Esther Cecelia Butta, a third-degree black belt, believe in this type of training for more than just physical defense purposes. Butta feels that learning these types of traditional practices benefits both girls and boys mentally as well.
“Both boys and girls should learn karate, martial arts or taekwondo because when they learn it, they acquire self-confidence, self-control, become strong, give respect and show courtesy…hence, boys won’t misbehave with girls,” she said.
Moreover, many believe that self-defense is an effective method of empowerment as well. This helps deviate from the standard notion that a girl left alone is vulnerable and, therefore, should remain locked away in her room or needs a male escort at all times.
Unfortunately, even romantic Bollywood classics we love and adore play into this stigma. We often see the female heroine portrayed as a weak damsel in distress—she is always in need of rescuing, whether it be from a father figure, a boy acting inappropriately, ill-treatment, work, or studies. It is appalling to think that you rarely see a woman portrayed as capable and strong enough to rescue herself—or even worse, rescue a man (because that would just be absurd).
Therefore, teaching girls from a young age to be physically and mentally strong can counteract these types of notions and replace them with an essential aspect of empowerment. These young girls need to truly believe that they do not need a man to be their savior or protector. They can be their own protection and saviors.
Girls should not experience fear by just being who they are: whether that is walking to school, to the movies, or playing outside. They should not remain closed and isolated within the confines of their home because of fear; they must be given the tools to overcome and fight this dangerous environment. That being said, the environment needs an immediate cultural and attitudinal reformation.
Though these initiatives must be encouraged, they should only be supplemental additions to current gender equality policy, legislation and enforcement changes. If these other areas continue to be unaddressed, women will remain susceptible to dangerous environments despite their physical and mental strength. For example, a young woman, Varshini Rao, 18, informed Teen Voices at Women’s eNews that she was touched inappropriately when leaving a self-defense class by a male instructor. These types of actions must be met with strict consequences if these initiatives are to actually work.
Therefore, the only way to truly harness strength and empowerment is if these initiatives go hand in hand with legislation and cultural reforms that focus on equality.