16/12/2014 9:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Self Defence Classes For Women Saw Spike After Nirbhaya But Not Popular, Say Trainers

RAVEENDRAN via Getty Images
Female staff from the Imperial Hotel perform moves during a self-defence class led by Delhi Police in New Delhi on January 17, 2013. After One-month of lurid reporting on a horrifying gang-rape and murder of a student in New Delhi, women in the Indian capital say they are more anxious than ever, leading to a surge in interest in self-defence classes. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN (Photo credit should read RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The deserted and poorly manned areas of the National Capital have always posed a security threat to women venturing out on their own after dusk. Three years ago, Deepika, a resident of Tilak Nagar who goes by her first name, found herself facing her attacker on a lonely stretch of road with no one to call out for help nearby. What she did is an inspiration to all Indian women.

“It was 9pm,” she recalled. “And I was on the road, walking alone, when a man cat-called to me.”

Though only about 18 at that time, Deepika, decided to ignore the man and kept walking. “He still persisted,” she said. “Eventually, he came and put a hand on my butt.” Though she said she was scared and mortified, Deepika decided to stay and fight.

Trained in martial arts, Deepika pulled the man into a neck hold and proceeded to punch him repeatedly as she had been taught to do in her karate class. “I continued to punch him over and over even though he had passed out. By then a large crowd had gathered around us, but as expected no one helped. Instead they implored me to let him go, saying he had had enough,” she said.

Today, at 21, and a postgraduate at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Physical Education, Deepika is a senior member of her karate order Seiko Kai run by expert Bharat Sharma. As she prepares for this year’s tournament, she is more than happy to share a few useful tips on overcoming male attackers:

When men come close, it is our natural instinct to push them away. Don’t. Instead focus on the man’s anatomical centreline that comprises of his weak points: neck, nose, solar plexus, groin and so on. Aim straight for the area, and as soon as you’re free, run away.

Deepika’s advice is seconded by Sharma who sports a 1 dan black karate belt. He has over three decades of experience in teaching at institutions of self defence in 35 states across India. “Over here, we teach women the practical aspects of self defence – how to react when if someone holds your hair or pulls you from behind,” he said. We teach women how to fight with ready objects at hand that can be as dangerous as a sharp object, be it a pen, pencil, dupatta or a mobile phone.”

Sharma also adds to Deepika’s statement about weaker body parts, saying that the eyes are the only part of any living creatures body that cannot grow in strength like muscles do. “So aim straight for the eyes with a two-finger attack,” he said. “And aim to blind, not just poke. “

Sharma, who’s company also works in affiliation with the Assam Rifles and other prestigious organisations, said girls with diminutive statures are more likely to take up karate, but the older ones rarely join, and when they do, are quick to leave. “BPOS call us for a day or two, but there’s not much you can learn in that time,” he said. “You need time to understand and refine the techniques of self defence.”

Reuters also relates a case of a woman, Asees Chaddha, who joined Krav Maga for self defence after she was forced to get off a bus where a man was touching her inappropriately, and instead of helping her, passers by told her it was because of the clothes - a sleeveless kameez with salwar - that she was wearing. The story also includes similarly-voiced dissents (like those of Sharma) from Rahul Agarwal, a chief karate instructor at the Seido Karate Institute, who said that the enrollment rate of women has hardly changed apart from an initial spike of interest after the Nirbhaya case.

However, Deepika and Sharma still hold out hope for the ratio of men to women in classes to change, and are doing their best to involve more women into programmes. "There are many types and styles of Japanese arts in addition to pepper spray and guns," said Sharma. But it is technique that a woman really needs to learn.

Deepika supported her instructor, hoping to reach out to women who have been attacked. "It's unfortunate, but we have to learn to fight back," she said earnestly still recalling how scared she was that day, albeit satisfied with the results that she was not at anyone's mercy.

“Anyone can attack. Hitting is not an art. Defence is," said Sharma.