(The first part of the review/evaluation blog was concerned with the progress of our karate students; please check preceding post for this.)
As many of you know, I respect a clear distinction between martial arts and self-protection. They are relatives but conflating them is dangerous and immoral. The outreach in India is a perfect example of how both can create valuable skills in different ways.
The primary self-protection strand of this outreach was to meet our colleagues in the Red Brigade Trust and deliver a two-day instructor training module for their team. I’ve been working with them online since September 2020, focusing on prevention and avoidance skills, so we wanted to consolidate this and go deeper. Additionally, we visited local schools to provide situational awareness training and tactical escape techniques for the students. A local newspaper report can be seen here
Most of us have now had the experience of meeting people through video meetings and then in real life. In most cases, although the interruptions and frustrations of Zoom can be tricky to navigate, yet a foundation can be built to speed up in-person connections. This definitely proved to be the case here; many of the young women in the training group had attended our online classes which gave us a headstart on identifying dangerous people, boundary setting, situational awareness, threat assessment/reading risk and learning emergency self-defence principles.
This course is designed for vulnerable, untrained people. There’s no boxing or grappling. There’s no blocking or magical joint locks. It’s for children, it’s for small women, it’s for anyone who needs to learn how to build a safer life through habits, mindset and body language.
Consider the terrible case of Red Brigade member, Sangeeta, who was sleeping next to her mother when acid was thrown in her face (see 24th December’s blog). Explain to me the karate technique that is effective in this situation. I’ll wait.
Many of the team are rape and acid attack survivors. Their risk of repeated assault is statistically higher because of this … yet they have undertaken the enormous task of challenging the status of underprivileged women in society and educating their sisters about how to avoid harm.
Recent news reports illustrate the fact that women in rural communities continue to have little (or no) control over their lives. Arranged marriages, forced childbearing, forced abortion, restricted access to jobs and education, limited medical and legal support…these are the norm for millions of women with low socio-economic status. See this Guardian article for analysis of forced abortion of girl babies in this part of India.
We will not accept being powerless against this immense challenge. The training is framed around this context: where coercion, inappropriate touch, control, rape, and silent obedience are expectations. Learning to see early tests of compliance and how to deflect them helps with victim de-selection. We practised refusing. This is socially difficult for many people globally, but especially in India where ‘disregarding no’ is a cultural norm. We practised exiting – for example if someone joins a rickshaw ride and gives you bad vibes. We practised workplace conversations to set boundaries. We talked about communities of support and how to recruit friends to reinforce each other in becoming a ‘hard target’.
We worked on reading situations and body language. We learned what to look for and how to make safe choices earlier in a timeline; avoiding ambush or other potential dangers. We practised strong postures and eye contact. And finally, we looked at simple principles for emergency physical responses: no hacks, no complex techniques.
Finally, I wanted to visit one of the Red Brigade’s social projects which is a cafe run by survivors of acid attacks. I’ve written about this in the blog of 23rd/24th December and the response from our readers has been heartfelt and inspiring. Due to the complex regulations about sending money into India, I am making a careful strategy as to how we can best help. The cafe is at risk of closure due to the pandemic – there has been no government bailout for small businesses and the customer base has vanished. It is running at an unsustainable loss which threatens the livelihood of its staff … staff who are brave enough to stand behind that till every day despite customers who turn away, sickened by their burned faces. My daughter is the same age as Sangeeta, and she also works in a cafe. The thought of her having to face what Sangeeta goes through each time someone comes up the steps … it’s one of those things the brain finds hard to sit with. Many of you read Sangeeta’s horrific story here and have been generous in your donations: that fund is still open for another week at https://gofund.me/43c1a47d
I’m dreaming of proper business support: barista training; links with Mollie’s Cafe here in Oxfordshire (who already support FairFight with donations from coffee sales); maybe business students who want a marketing project…truly, this is something that as a community we can do.
And that, kind reader, is the final post of project blog 5. We hope to go back with a full team in April and October 2022; funds and pandemic permitting. Please follow FairFight on Facebook and Instagram; please consider us for corporate sponsorship and club fundraising. Check out the work being done in Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as in India. Thanks for your attention and support.
FairFight Varanasi out 🎤⬇️✅