Nobody Messes with Debi's Girls - The New Indian Express

Nobody Messes with Debi's Girls

Published: 13th April 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 11th April 2014 10:56 AM

Debi Steven, 39, is not a celebrity, but girls from the coastal villages in Alappuzha district of Kerala beam at the mention of her name. In the past month, London-based self-defence instructor Debi has trained more than 3,000 girls on how to fight back.

The gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student from Delhi in December 2012 that horrified people across India and the world was what prompted Debi to come to India to teach under-privileged girls how to fight back. She founded Action Breaks Silence, a not-for-profit company in August 2013.  She partnered with the ‘Red Brigade’, a Lucknow-based civilian vigilante group, which works to empower women and help them reclaim the public space. Debi’s group, Action Breaks Silence, joined hands with the Red Brigade and began training girls in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states.

Debi’s own experience of sexual violence triggered a passion for learning how to fight back. She was raped when she was only 11 years old. When she grew up, she studied martial arts, and is now a fourth Dan Black Belt holder. She has also taught self-defence in various schools in the UK and Europe.

The Nirbhaya gang rape prompted Debi to come to India to teach under-privileged girls how to fight back.

Earlier, Debi had visited Kerala in 2010. At that time she spent nearly one month at the Marari Beach Resort in Alappuzha. During her stay she understood the poor conditions in which coastal girls live. “So I selected Mararikulam to train the girls,” she says. “[Resort general manager] P Subramaniyan helped me to contact the local schools and the Catholic church arranged facilities in their schools.” When reports of the training camps appeared in local newspapers, many more schools and institutions approached Debi, who could not accommodate all of them. “I will come to Kerala after a few months to train more girls,” she promised.

Meanwhile, the Kalaripayattu performers of SNV Kalari in Pala have come forward too. Debi is planning to give training to them in order to establish a training team in the state.

So what exactly does Debi teach? “I want to make the girls feel bold in case they are attacked,” she says. So, Debi, with the help of her team members – Jonathan Hubble, Patric Doy and Ropert Charmak – teaches the girls to use biting, kicking, punching and other methods. “A sudden kick to the private parts of an attacker can be very effective,” says Debi. First the team members enact these techniques in front of the girls. Later the students participate in mock situations.

And the girls are happy. Ressy Aloscious, a class 8 student of St Augustine High School, Mararikulam, says, “The training of ‘Action Breaks Silence’ has instilled a confidence in me. Earlier, I was shy to even talk to people. After the workshop, I feel bold enough to respond to social evils like eve-teasing.”

P R Yesudas, headmaster of the St Francis Assisi Higher Secondary School, at Arthunakal, says that 480 students received training. Many of the girls come from poor and socially backward backgrounds. “There was an immediate impact after the training,” says Yesudas. “The girls began to perform better in their studies. They learnt to talk boldly. So we have asked Debi and her team to give training to all the girls in the school. She said she would do so on her next visit.”

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