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Martial arts are finding a new, and perhaps somewhat unlikely, new audience in India, where the number of women taking it up has grown considerably in recent years.

Rape Crisis in India Increases Number of Girls Learning Martial Arts

india rape crisis learning martial arts

The reason for this is self-evident to anyone who has followed the rape crisis which has engulfed the country over the past few years. A number of high profile rapes and murders of young women has shocked both India and the wider world.

The statistics are harrowing. Between 1971 and 2012, the number of reported rapes in India has increased ten-fold, from around 2,500 to more than 25,000. And such is the contempt with which such reports are often handled, campaigners have estimated that this represents as few as 10% of the total number of cases actually taking place.

The response of the Indian Government and law enforcement to this crisis has been perhaps well-intentioned, but clearly insufficient. The problem has continued to escalate and the statistics continue to rise.

It is little wonder then that more and more Indian women are looking to take steps to protect themselves from the threats they face on the streets. And Martial Arts has been a popular choice for women and girls who want to be confident in some form of self-defence.

Martial Arts interest in Bihar, India

india rape crisis learning martial arts

The Times of India has reported from the city of Patna, the state capital of Bihar in the north-east of the country, where around 40% of students of one leading Karate instructor are now female.

Nalin Kumar, who is President of the Karate Association of Bihar says that he trains around 700 students and demand has been so high that he has been running additional all-girl workshops.

Students are often reluctant to cite the threats they face on the streets as a motivating factor in their decision to take up karate and other martial arts, but rather focus on positive benefits such as confidence and self-reliance.

One such student, Anamika, who trains in Taekwando at the Magadh Mahila College (MMC) said “Learning self-defence is essential. We have to prove that we are not the weaker gender. Girls should come forward and prove their mettle.” In May 2015, she won a silver medal at the Bihar State Taekwondo Championship.

Nisha Perween, who is a Class XI student of the Oriental College in Patna, described learning martial arts as “the need of the hour” and said karate had helped her to “realize my own individuality.” She has been training in karate for three years and is now a black belt who also won a silver medal in the Junior and Under-21’s categories at the South Asian Karate-Do Federation (SAKF) Championship back in September 2016.

Martial Arts Training Will Keep the Girls of India Safe

india rape crisis learning martial arts

Despite her success, she has encountered one hurdle which many girls who try to break with convention have to overcome in India; the conservative views of their families. Nisha’s father is described as having “grudgingly accepted his daughter’s talent” whilst many others are not even that lucky.

“Some years back, people didn’t want girls to take part in martial arts, as they thought it wasn’t feminine enough,” explained Pinky Singh, a Bihar State Black Belt Champion and Nisha’s coach. “Girls were supposed to learn dance, singing or drawing. But, the world is changing.”

In some parts of Indian society that is certainly true. The affluent middle-classes are certainly more aware of women’s rights and the importance of girls knowing how to protect themselves. But Indian society is still built around a rigid class and gender structure and for those girls from poorer and often more traditional backgrounds, being allowed to attend martial arts classes can be much harder.

Suraj Kumar, who is chief coach of Patna Wushu Association, is currently training 50 underprivileged children in his institute. But only around 10 of them are girls, something which he puts down to martial arts still being “taboo” in working class society.

Overall, around 40% of his Wushu students are female and he remains determined to keep spreading the word and encouraging families from working class roots to allow their daughters to attend.

As India’s rape crisis shows no sign of abating, it seems like the very least families across India should be doing to help protect their daughters. There is no guarantee that martial arts training will keep the girls of India safe. But it will at least give them a fighting chance and in the face of growing threats, surely that is the least they deserve.

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