NEW DELHI — The schoolgirls ran into the auditorium, shouting, “Let’s go, let’s go,” in Hindi as they ushered one another into single-file lines. Some adjusted the big, red bows that held their braids together, part of their school uniform. Then they crouched into defensive postures, fists ready.
“Oss!” they yelled — a karate greeting combining the Japanese words for push and persevere.
They bowed slightly to their mentors before unleashing a series of punches, karate chops and kicks, interspersed with occasional giggles, whispers and sheepish smiles.
“Do not laugh!” Police Constable Renu, who like many Indians goes by one name, called from the stage above them, her white T-shirt emblazoned with “Respect Women” on the back.
“Do you think they will laugh when they attack you?” she asked. “You must strike back with anger.”
The girls stifled their smiles, their fists pummeling the air faster, with more determination. This was their seventh self-defense class, and they were feeling confident enough, many of them said, to do the unthinkable: stand up for themselves.
Constable Renu has been teaching this free, 10-day course hosted by the New Delhi police — a combination of karate, taekwondo and judo moves — for the past eight years in the city’s public schools and universities.
The initiative, with classes taught by several female officers, also includes summer and winter camps for women, and a course called “gender sensitization for boys,” a lawyer-led course that teaches men how to help women in trouble and how to be more respectful to them in public spaces. It’s about making them “feel responsible towards girls and women,” Constable Renu said.
Booked solid for the next six months, Constable Renu said she has never been busier, as anxiety among women and girls grows with a stream of news headlines describing brutal assaults across the country, including recent national outrage after an 8-year-old girl was kidnapped, gang raped and murdered.
Since a 23-year-old woman, Jyoti Pandey Singh, was beaten, gang raped and fatally injured while riding a bus in the capital in 2012, women here have been on edge. That attack prompted intense soul-searching and a fierce public debate about an issue that, though long pervasive, was seldom addressed. It also gave many women the courage to come forward and demand justice in such assaults, rather than suffer in silence, too ashamed to speak up.
On a recent Tuesday morning, at the Navjeevan Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya school, widely known as NSKV,