You can imagine my sadness last week as I was flipping through the newspaper and was reminded about the brutal rape of a 5-year-old girl in New Delhi. I can’t bring myself to summarize the details of the case, but I trust that you are Internet savvy enough to read about it.
Unfortunately, these rape cases in India are not rare. Disturbingly, The Guardian reveals that“reports of molestation in Delhi are up 590% year on year and rape reports by 147%” and it’s been estimated that in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes. Now, as depressing and brutal as these statistics are, there is, in fact, a ray of sunshine in all of this despair.
Today, the Red Brigade, a group of women named for their red shirts, are literally fighting back against the abuse polluting the country. Their mission is use martial arts training to stop the abuse of women.
Following the gang rape and murder of medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey, the Red Brigade formed in November 2011. They started with 15 members and have now reached over 100, ranging from ages 11-25. Their leader, 25-year-old Usha Vishwakarma, is no stranger to abuse. She explained that at 18 years old, her schoolteacher attempted to rape her. She escaped, but her subsequent complaints to the school fell on deaf ears. Over the course of two years, as she began to get her confidence back, she was a motivated to open a school exclusively for girls in the hopes of protecting them from abuses. Later, Vishwakarma founded the Red Brigade.
Clearly, Usha Vishwakarma has earned real-life superhero status.
For members of the Red Brigade, the first step is voicing when they are being abused, threatened or harassed. Then, if their complaints are met with no help, they take action.
Usha’s sister Pooja, 18, explains in this Mirror article: “A boy was taunting the girls, saying he could have sex with them whenever he wanted. We told him to stop but he didn’t… One day he did it again, so we grabbed him and hit him with shoes and fists. His friends were terrified and ran off.”
In another quote from Mirror that is both haunting and comforting, Afreen Khan, a member of the Red Brigade says, “Before joining the Red Brigade men abused me. Now they leave me alone.”
Unfortunately, it is not only the young men that the Red Brigade must overcome. While many members are met with support from their parents, others are met with resistance. Simpi Diwari, a 16-year-old member of the Red Brigade, explains her parents’ resistance here:
“The attitude of my parents is very demoralizing…I want to be like Usha, fighting against the cruel things, I want to be a teacher and a motivator too, but I am fighting with my parents just to be allowed out of the house.“
Clearly the Red Brigade faces challenges at both the family level and the broader cultural level. While they have made progress and have over 100 members there are over 1 billion people in India so we can only hope the Red Brigade is not the only group of it’s kind. It is girls like those in the Red Brigade that give me hope of an end in sight for rape culture, but until we get there, let’s keep fighting back.
Featured image via Gethin Chamberlain for the Observer.