Age does not get in the way of women from this small panchayat in Kottayam district. Ladies as old as 95 years of age and brimming with energy gather in the hall above the Kangazha Panchayat building to learn self-defence moves.
Women officers from the Kerala Police have been training batches of women here in what can be called basic life skills for ladies. Shahida Beghum of Manimala is one such officer whose firm ways seem to make her trainees more receptive to her techniques.
"Through this, we try to spread the message and make them understand that our body is the weapon. For kids, we teach them the difference between good touch and bad touch. We also tell them why it is important to know these techniques and when they should be applying them in practice," says Shahida.
This large-scale initiative was started in April under the Nirbhaya scheme which aims to prevent crimes against women and children. Kottayam Police chief Hari Sankar, nodal officer Vinod Pillai and Women CI Philomina N formed a team to impart self-defence training to women throughout the district.
The ripple effect
More than 7,000 girls and women have been trained in Kangazha itself and more than 60,000 in other parts of the district in just eight months.
The success rate of the initiative can be accounted to the mechanism adopted by authorities to make it inclusive. One civil police officer was chosen from each of the six sub-divisions in Kottayam to train women in schools, colleges, residence associations, Kudumbasree units, madrasas, church associations, and any place where it was possible to gather a willing group of ladies – and there was always one somewhere. Out of the trainees, a few leaders were chosen and they further passed on the skill to smaller groups.
"The trainees were asked to impart their knowledge to schools, colleges etc. Out of 10,308 women in Kangazha panchayat, 7,350 have been given proper training. We have now started our follow-up survey through which we will identify those who are yet to take part in these classes. We have also decided to give training at homes to suit their timings," says Ammini Alex, Kudumbasree chairperson of Kangazha panchayat.
Sandhya Aneesh, one of the 10 master trainers chosen from a 40-member vigil group, says, "I was just part of a group of 40-member group who turned up on the first day to learn few basic defence moves. Teaching them to young girls in schools and colleges is really a fulfilling experience because I feel I am instilling confidence in young minds."
The programme entails 43 situations and moves which would be helpful to incapacitate an attacker. The training for beginners, however, starts with just four easy-to-practise self-defence moves that allow enough time to get away to safety.
Preethi, a mother of two, who has been attending classes for weeks here, says, "For a person like me who travels daily to work and back home, this self-defence training has boosted my confidence. It is so simple and effective that I also taught my kids and I have realised the importance of having strong mental power."
The elaborate course structure is what makes the training effective. For instance, 'catch and release' is a basic move taught to counter four situations of hand-grabbing – grabbing of wrist with one hand, grabbing of wrist with both hands, grabbing of both wrists, and grabbing of wrists from behind.
The other three basic moves are to fight predators in buses and elevators, and to counter group attacks.
Safety in numbers?
This self-defence initiative aims to fight the general sense of fear women feel every time they step out of their homes. The predatory behaviour towards women often doesn't ensure safety even within the walls of their homes. With the ever-increasing rise in crimes against women, an initiative of this sort not only instils confidence but also open dialogues about unfair sexual advances in public which often go unreported because the victims do not retaliate.
Since her training, 50-year-old Geetha from Kangazha feels safer when she is home alone. So does college student Silpa who says that the training has given her confidence to say 'No!' to anyone who tries to touch her inappropriately in public.
The 'trainees' keep coming back for follow-up classes so that they can continue regular practice with vigour. A meet-up of all the women who were trained here is to take place later this month where they will share with each other, their experiences since the training.