Women In India Look to Self-Defense Training to Stay Safe


By Nisha Salim

This article was first published on



Violence against women is an everyday occurrence. Protecting ourselves is important, if not essential – and it is never too late to learn.

India is the fourth most unsafe country for women, according to a 2011 poll by TrustLaw. When it comes to women’s safety, India ranks just above Somalia. Delhi is the most unsafe city for Indian women, even during the day.


Over-protection fosters helplessness

A typical Indian girl from a middle-class or affluent family is raised chaperoned and over-protected. Rarely does she learn how to protect herself or react in a situation where she is attacked.

“If a woman is interested in regaining control of her life then it’s really important to break the mechanism of over-protection. Learning self-defence is the only way to do this,” says Ashwin Mohan, a martial arts trainer who runs Savage Fighting Arts in Bangalore.

“Crimes against women were never about sex but about power. Men who grew up with ‘controlled’ women in their households now see women seeking greater freedom, as their contemporaries. They have trouble not having someone subservient to them, so they exploit the one weakness everyone thought was not important – women’s lack of self-protection skills,” adds Ashwin.

Franklin Joseph, a Bangalore based social entrepreneur and self-defence trainer who runs Power To Women, agrees. “Even independent women may still follow only age old safety advice such as ‘do not walk alone in dark streets’ and remain unaware of the modern methodology of crimes. So they end up as victims.

Both Ashwin and Franklin are quite vocal about how important it is for women to take ownership of their own safety.

Myths about women’s self-defence

Several myths abound about women’s self-defence. It is necessary to recognize these myths to take the next step and to empower yourself with the necessary skills for your own protection.

Myth 1: I am too weak/fragile/old/out-of-shape to learn martial arts.

You are not training to be the next Karate Kid. You are merely learning how to protect yourself, should the need arise. “Self defence is more about superior deception and manipulation, this requires thinking capacity rather than brawn,” states Ashwin. Martial art forms like Taijiquan can be learned even at 70. A woman who is aware of the possibility of attack and confident in her ability to fight abuse can fight back both mentally and physically.

Self-defence techniques teach you how.

Myth 2: It will never happen to me because I do not step outside the house after dark.

Most sexual assault crimes happen within homes, and are perpetrated by those who are known to the victims. Walking alone in the dark is not the only dangerous thing you can do.

Myth 3: I move only among well-educated people; they are not rapists.

We have been culturally conditioned that people with a high status in society such as doctors, teachers or religious people will never attack anyone. But the truth is that assault cuts across all socio-economic classes. A person’s economic status or educational background does not guarantee non-violence.

Myth 4: I do not dress provocatively; so I do not attract unwanted attention.

Sadly, at least some women still think that the victim is to blame. Most rapes happen because an attacker happens to be in the vicinity of a person whom he thinks he can overpower easily, not because she was in a bikini.

Myth 5: Men are physically stronger, it is impossible to subdue them.

Self-defence is primarily about being aware of warning signs, recognizing dangerous situations so you can avoid them and understanding that you are physically as capable as any man to fight back. Stressful situations evoke a fight, flight or freeze response. Self-defence skills prepare you to fight rather than freeze.

Myth 6: I have a pepper spray in my bag, so I’m safe.

Pepper sprays burn a lot but they make the attacker really mad. On Indian skin it is virtually useless unless it goes to the eyes. The eyes are a small target, movable and easily defended by a person habituated to violence,” reminds Ashwin. He trains people to recognize bad vibes or the ‘scent of violence’ so that they can get out of the danger zone immediately.

The usefulness of pepper spray is limited. One cannot use it effectively in a closed or air-conditioned room where there is a high chance that you may get affected too,” adds Franklin, who is also not a fan of pepper sprays. He suggests that stun guns, which give a mild electric shock to the attacker, may be a better option.


Self-defence 101

Here are a few self-defence tips from the pros:

– Pretend to be submissive and fight back when the attacker is off-guard, while faking an epileptic fit, asthmatic attack, nervous breakdown or a heart attack.

– Stay fit enough to run fast.

– Always walk on the right side of the road to avoid groping or chain snatching from behind.

– Always walk paying full attention to your surroundings, keeping your purse to your front.

– Avoid wearing high heeled shoes when you have to walk back to your home. Avoid too much jewellery while using public transportation.

– It is not rude to say STOP. Say it in a loud voice, but avoid using swear words or threats which may further enrage the attacker.

– You may trust and love a man, but your intuition is most likely to be right, so listen to your inner voice.

– If you have to fight a man, assume the role of a woman possessed. Keep kicking him repeatedly, attacking only the knees, groin or eyes or chin.

Remember that there is no substitute for self-defense training. You may not learn everything about taking care of yourself just by reading a few tips or attending a few weekend classes, but they will help you rethink what you have been taught so far.

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  1. Sunshine

    what a great article…!! However, if you think about it, more than attacks women get groped/molested in crowded places. When you are walking on a road that is packed like sardines, you are helpless even when you can feel an unwanted hand probe your body. I always carry two safety pins in my purse. Don’t care, I have decided nobody, and I mean nobody, will touch me without my permission.

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