NEW DELHI: Fists clenched and torsos upright in a mini-squat, several hundred young women launch punches at an imaginary enemy, their shouts synchronized with the blows they are delivering.
The women were taking part in a two-week self-defense course organized by police in in the Indian capital on Tuesday. The annual exercise, now in its 16th year, brought more than 9,000 people together at six locations across the city.
“In India, there is physical and mental abuse toward young women and even housewives,” said Insp. Renu Yadav, who is overseeing training in the Vasant Vihar camp, which has 1,800 participants.
“Our aim is to develop self-confidence so women can raise their voice against violence,” Yadav said.
Police instructors at the camp teach participants “about their basic physical power and how to use it,” she said.
At least one policewoman gives instructions over a microphone, while two others demonstrate postures and movements that the students mimic.
The camp teaches women to use everyday objects — pens, scarves and bottles — to protect themselves.
A street play offers lessons on how to respond to signs of violence and how to differentiate “good touch” from “bad touch.”
India has a horrific record of sexual violence against women. In 2016, the latest government data available, almost 39,000 cases of rape and 85,000 cases of assault were reported.
The country’s rape laws were strengthened and fast-track courts set up after the brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old women on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Last month, in response to the furor over the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, the government introduced the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12.
Parents who enrolled their daughters in the camp said they hoped the self-defense course would teach skills and tactics to respond to any attack.
Shikha Sood had brought both her daughters — aged 12 and 10 — to the camp.
“I saw the advertisements for the camp,” she said. “Self-defense is becoming very important for girls because of the increasing crime rate. It’s the need of the hour.”
Seema and Sandeep Charyari skipped work on Tuesday to bring their 16-year-old daughter and her younger sister to the camp.
“I want my girls to be more empowered, more confident, and I find this camp very positive,” said Sandeep.
His younger daughter had been bullied in their neighborhood, he said.
“The current scenario (of violence against women) makes this kind of training important.”
Priya Dhaniwal, a housewife, made breakfast for her husband, young son and in-laws before rushing to the camp, where both she and her 13-year-old daughter enrolled for self-defense lessons.
“You can need self-defense tactics any time and that’s why I enrolled,” said Dhaniwal.
Her favorite after the two-hour class was the temple attack. “It’s like giving someone a slap. I won’t forget it,” she said.