By Redi Degefa

The rape of an 8-year-old Indian girl is becoming the catalyst for the fight against rape and sexual assault in India. In late January 2017, a girl, whose name is not specified, was brutally gang-raped and murdered. This incident was a plan executed by Hindu men, who raped her in order to terrorize and drive away the girl’s nomadic Muslim community. Similarly, the rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus caused an intense fear among Indian women and girls to be present in public places.

In the wake of this tragedy, the New Delhi Police is holding a series of self-defense classes for Indian women and girls. This free 10-day course contains different defensive mechanisms, such as karate, taekwondo and judo. The course also includes a program for men that is focused on gender sensitization A lawyer leads the class, and the goal is to teach men how to help women in danger, and how to be respectful to women in public settings. In an interview by The New York Times, one of the officers who teaches the course, Constable Renu, said that this class is about making men “feel responsible toward girls and women.”

Recently, Constable Renu instructed a self-defense course for 180 schoolgirls, ages 11 to 17, at the Navjeevan Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya School in Delhi. The girls practiced their moves through possible scenarios of being grabbed from behind as they walk down the street. The girls struck back with the movements they learned, such as kicking, grunting and punching in unison.

“The first move we teach them in the class is how to make a full-throated cry for help when they are attacked. To be able to make such a sound is empowering in itself,” said Constable Renu.

Unfortunately, the Indian government is responding to these rapes slowly and insufficiently. To make matter worse, government officials themselves are being accused of either rape or cover-ups. For example, the current ruling party’s lawmaker in the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl and conspiring with his brother to kill the girl’s father when the family reported the incident.

As rape and sexual assault continue to be growing phenomena in India, this program provides Indian women and girls the opportunity to stand up for themselves.