One evening, 26-year-old Silvy Kalra was walking down a Delhi street when she heard some domestic workers discussing how they and their daughters are teased and bullied by young boys and men in the neighbourhood throughout the day.
Not only did Kalra understand the stress these women were going through, but also their absolute helplessness. Soon, she figured out a way to help such women stay safe while they go from one house to another to work as domestic help and earn their livelihood.
Kalra, who is a journalist, communications professional and activist, has got trainers on board and organised her first set of classes recently. It took her a lot of convincing and effort to get some domestic workers on board with the idea so their daughters too can learn self-defence. The young journalist is taking small steps towards a bigger goal, and her convincing her own gym trainer to take some classes for the workshop shows just that. Kalra aims to take this initiative forward by hiring more instructors, collaborating with institutions, and getting more women on board. SheThePeople. TV spoke with Kalra about her initiative, the importance of self-defence and her vision for its future. Excerpts from the interview.
Could you give us a brief on your workshops?
The aim is to conduct free self-defence training workshops for women domestic workers, their daughters and other women both from deprived and affluent families. It is every woman’s right to learn self-defence so that she can be her own protector.
It is every woman’s right to learn self defence so that she can be her own protector
The workshops start with basic physical fitness exercises for 20 minutes, as it is extremely important to be physically fit and have a good stamina before you learn self-defence. After basic exercises, the trainer teaches 5-6 basic tricks you can use to protect yourself if attacked. There are different tricks for different circumstances.
There’s hardly any mention about the cause of domestic workers in the broader scene. What made you take up this responsibility?
Once while I was on my way back home from office, I heard two domestic workers talking about how difficult it has become for them to travel back home after 7 pm. The localities they reside in are not very safe. They are constantly harassed and sometimes pushed and assaulted, too, on their way home. Despite such bad conditions, all they can do is ignore and carry on and, probably, wait for the worse to happen.
I am a journalist and I work at odd hours. I used to feel scared travelling back home alone at night even when I was provided a commute by my office. What about these domestic workers? They neither have financial stability nor family support. My initiative is to help these women learn self-defence so that they feel safe while travelling alone, thereby gaining confidence and learning to be their own protector
Please tell us how you went about the entire process — from convincing these workers to gathering trainers for these self-defence classes. What were the challenges you faced and still face?
My biggest challenge was to convince a trainer to give a class free of cost or at a very minimal fee. I am a young communications professional and I conducted these classes on my own savings.
Domestic workers are mostly busy working to make ends meet and don’t have the time or money to join self-defence classes. We conducted these classes in the afternoon in the colony park and requested the workers to join us. As and when they got time, they attended the one-hour session. Sometimes, they couldn’t attend the session due to time crunch, but they definitely sent their daughters for the class. Another big challenge is funds. I wish to do much more but, for now, I have limited funds.
How can we encourage society to start thinking about such concepts to safeguard these women and improve their safety conditions? How can we become more sensitive towards the weaker and marginalised sections in this regard?
We all make the society and we need to be more empathetic and compassionate. We are all a part of this and it’s our basic and civil duty to help one another feel safe and confident.
We are all a part of this and it’s our basic and civil duty to help one another feel safe and confident
What has been your experience training with these women so far?
These women are passionate and very brave. All they need is an opportunity to learn and that’s what my initiative aims to do.
What has the response from families of these domestic workers?
The families usually don’t understand the importance of self-defence but once they attend the class, their perspective changes.
Is physical fitness important to learn self-defence? If so, why?
Yes, it is extremely important. That’s the reason why we conduct a physical fitness session before the self-defence training.
There are several such coaching courses abroad which are aligned with schools and other institutions. How can we introduce this concept here?
Most of these domestic workers aren’t literate or stable enough to apply for these courses. I aim to work with the ministry of women and child development in this initiative, but right now we have just started. If the ministry intervenes, it will take the initiative to greater heights as we can help more girls and women feel safer.
How do you think this fits with our broader movement of fighting against gender violence nationally?
Well, macho isn’t just for men. Women are superwomen indeed, but they will not feel completely independent unless and until they can be their own protectors.
What is the road ahead?
I aim to take my initiative ahead by making it official very soon. It all started with the thought of helping women and girls feel safer and independent. I was alone when I started with one trainer but gradually more people are joining us in our mission to make the world a safer place for girls and women by teaching them how to protect themselves first.
I started with one trainer but gradually more people are joining us and understanding why it’s important to help all women feel safe.