Between the extremes — the gated ‘safety’ of home and the violent spaces of the outdoors where rape is a reality — lies the long road of degrading, self-diminishing stares and touches. Classified under the catch-all term ‘eve teasing’, it doesn’t quite tell of the horrors the vulnerable may feel when they are groped, whistled at, or mentally undressed.
When incidents like this take place, “It could leave a woman feeling confused, vulnerable, even fearful, wondering whether people around her will support her, or whether she’s called it upon herself, or if it’s a big enough deal to confront the person,” says Arvinder J Singh, Director, Ashoka Centre for Wellbeing, adding that it’s the way we’re socialised as women that is the root cause of the way we react. Mostly, we are told to ignore ‘minor’ incidents.
The biggest hurdles to the safety of women and others who are vulnerable, is the way boys and girls are brought up, says Aparna Rajawat, who runs the Pink Belt Mission training programmes that help women develop a sense of self and learn self-defence techniques. Since her organisation addresses men too, she talks about the importance of understanding where the bullying behaviour stems from. In her experience, this passive violence is a learnt form of suppression that begins early in life, with girls being discriminated at home, and boys being given ‘right of way’ in every situation.
In a less than ideal world though, Aparna says there are ways of staying safe, but the training must begin across physical, emotional, mental, digital, and legal levels. In terms of physical preparedness, she says, “Speak up. If a person touches you inappropriately or even stares you down, confront him,” she says, adding that it’s essential to know that these are against the law and are punishable offences. Her approach in this situation is somewhere between going on the offensive and being defensive. It’s a good idea to confront the perpetrator in a crowded area, where you are likely to get support. “Don’t be quiet; it can get worse if you don’t react. Also, if more and more women stop and question the man, he may think twice before doing anything the next time.” So when you speak up, you’re talking for all who are vulnerable, and are trying to prevent future attacks.
If you are in a lonely neighbourhood and there’s a potential threat, the best bet is to find an escape. This is where apps like Raksha, 112 India, Himmat Plus (for Delhi), are useful. “Here, the aim is to save yourself, so it’s best to run,” says Aparna. If you have to defend yourself, she says the eyes, then the nose, the Adam’s apple and the groin are the most sensitive areas.
- Products: The Atomic Bear Tactical Pen that writes and has a self-defence function; the Taiker Personal Alarm that you can slip onto keys
- Books: Self-Defense: Steps to Survival by Katy Mattingly; How to Defend Yourself: Unarmed Combat Skills that Work by Martin J Dougherty; Fit to Fight: The Complete Manual on Self-Defense for Women by Vesna P Jacob
In order to use your body though, it’s essential to be fit: “You should be able to hit and run.” You want to have either a fight and/or flight, but not a freeze reaction. To be able to flee, learn to run at least a kilometre or two, so your body is used to it. In order to fight, develop the abs, chest, and arm muscles with strength training. “For the kicking technique, karate and taekwondo are the best,” says Aparna, who is herself a practitioner of both. Work on your reflexes too.
Head gear: It is the action of keeping the hand and shoulder strong and touching the ear. It is helpful to act as a barrier when your upper body, neck, and head are attacked.
Car wiper: Involves joining your hands together side to side with thumbs locked behind (to protect them), to be used to deflect an attacker’s hands when they reach at you from the front.
In an article ‘Evaluation Outcomes of Self-Defense Training for Women: A Review’, published in Aggression and Violent Behavior, the author Leanne R Brecklin says, “The main goal of women’s self-defence training is to strengthen women’s capacity to defend themselves against potential attacks. Yet, the effects of women’s self-defence training extend considerably beyond this objective, including physical, psychological, and behavioral impacts.” She says such programmes “may increase assertiveness, perceived control, self-efficacy, risk avoidance behaviors, confidence, and self-esteem, and may also lower anxiety and fear.”
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