Fight like a girl
For these little girls in Mumbai martial arts means much more than just self defence.
They sing in Portuguese and shout commands in Japanese as they slice the air with well-timed kicks and punches. They are a group of little girls unconsciously breaking gender stereotypes by simply doing what they love, fighting. We caught up with a few from classes all over Mumbai learning self defence sometimes as sport but also as a means of building confidence.
Lately as the elections loom closer there are posters from political parties all over different parts of the city promoting self defence classes for women. Thereby shifting the onus of women’s safety onto women, instead of creating a safer environment. Interestingly however, we noticed that at eight years and below most girls simply expressed a desire to take on bullies but it’s only as the age group got older that the threat of an unsafe environment for women seemed to become at least one of the reasons for learning the form. But even then, it wasn’t the only reason. So what is it that makes a little girl want to fight? Read on to find out.
Aratrika Chaturvedi, 8 years, Taekwondo Red Belt
Eight year old Aratrika learns Taekwondo for confidence, she says. Coming to the class has given her the strength to ward off bullies who often tease her about her weight.
“So how do you react to someone who bullies you now?” we ask her.
“I hit them,” says Aratrika almost immediately.
But there is an underlying sense of justice behind the aggression. “If someone calls me a rhinoceros I say thank you, because rhinos are strong and I take this as a compliment. But if someone calls me ‘moti’ only then do I hit them.”
When unprovoked this eight year old prides herself on her kindness. “I give everything to everybody and I’m friends with everyone.”
Insiyah Chunawala, 6 years, Karate beginner
Insiyah loves chess just as much as she loves playing with her Barbie dolls.
“But what makes you angry?” we ask her.
“When I don’t get what’s mine.”
Insiyah, who started learning Karate because she ‘looooves’ Karate wants to grow up and become an artist. Befitting those whimsical artistic sensibilities, the only superpower she wishes for is the ability to create ice everywhere. Why? Because she ‘looooves’ ice.
Kausar and Sadani Shaikh, 14 and 12 Years, Karate green belts
“I was a darrpok, I would come home and cry if something happened to me,” says 12 year old Sadani. “I’m not scared of anything anymore.”
Her sister on the other hand benefits from the discipline that the class has taught her. The class is indeed admirable in the way it is conducted. With a motley group ranging from four years to sixty, the teacher holds the class’ unwavering attention as he oversees a symmetrical sparring with strangely soothing Japanese commands.
Kausar who is 14, firmly believes that women ought to learn self defence because India isn’t safe. However given a chance she isn’t too keen on fighting anyone. But her sister does has a target in mind if she had to pick someone to fight.
“Reshma (orange belt) teases me about being too thin, I would challenge her and show her my skills,” she says.
Ayesha Shaikh, 9 years, Mixed Martial Arts beginner
“He’s not my hero, he’s my superhero,” says Ayesha about her black belt father who also happens to be her role model. “I want a black belt like my Abu,” she says.
When she grows up she definitely wants to become a boxer, she’d like to display her MMA skills in tournaments on TV. There is a deep sense of respect for the medium, she means to reserve her skills only for opponents who can match her training.
“But what do you do when you get angry?” we want to know.
“I take out it all out on my father. He’s the only one who can handle all the MMA.”
“Is there anyone you really want to protect Ayesha?”
“My daadi. Woh toh meri jaan hai.”
Krisha Mehta, 13 years, Capoeira enthusiast
She loves Capoeira because it’s not about fighting, it’s about dance and rhythm with an underlying ode to strength. But shy 13 year old Krisha also learnt confidence from the martial arts form. “I don’t want to fight anyone, but I don’t feel afraid of much now. I can easily do handstands without fear.”
Interestingly, her Capoeira nickname means ‘pearl’ in English. As her teacher says, she was very shy in the beginning but with a bit of polish, she now shines fearlessly at every move in class.
Photographed by Zahra Amiruddin, story by Meera Ganapathi.