Led by sexual assault survivor, Lucknow's 'Red Brigade' empowers women through martial arts
The Red Brigade, a non-profit organisation, now has 100 girls, most of them survivors. It has trained over 1.57 lakh girls in martial arts and defence techniques across the country since 2011.
The historic capital of Uttar Pradesh has just added a new chapter to its recent past– it is bold, it is sad and it has women as protagonists.
When the Red Brigade, Lucknow, became a registered trust under the Trust Act, it was time for Usha Vishwakarma, 33, to declare: “The world can’t exist without us.”
She had a dreadful, agonising past. In 2010, she was left abandoned and traumatised after a sexual assault by a colleague at a makeshift tin-shade classroom where she taught slum children.
It took her two years to get over her sufferings and depression, and what replaced all that was a challenge: she would confront the perverts and teach them a lesson. She raised her army of 15 girls, mostly victims of sexual harassment. The girls would wear red and black, the colours of danger and protest.
The Red Brigade, a non-profit organisation, now has 100 girls, most of them survivors. They train school girls and others to defend themselves against the monsters.
Surviving on donations, the Red Brigade has trained over 1.57 lakh girls in martial arts and defence techniques across the country since 2011.
“My mission as an activist is to create a fearless society for women by empowering them with self-defence techniques. I want to reach out to as many girls as possible,” she says.
But why name it Red Brigade? “Men would make derogatory remarks whenever we performed martial arts and self-defence techniques in public. In April 2011, a boy said loudly: ‘Dekho, powerful red brigade ja rahi hai’ (Look, a powerful red brigade is on its way),” she recalls. “It was that call that gave us the name.” With inputs from survivors, the Red Brigade went on to develop 15-20 self-defence techniques of their own and named them Nishastra. It’s a mix of techniques evolved through experiences, incidences and situations shared by the sexual violence victims.
“Of the 1.57 lakh trained in Nishastra, 56,000 were trained under the Cavach Mission of the state government,” she said. “We have also imparted training to women staff in about 50 prestigious institutions and organisations such as universities, railways, metros, banks, police, professional educational bodies, and others,” says Usha.
In order to make the young girls and women aware of the lurking demons, Usha organises awareness campaigns, conducts street plays and workshops in schools, colleges and other public spaces. She works with girls aged over 12 and also helps women with legal assistance if they want to file a case. “We have performed over 700 street plays and organised around 225 seminars raising the voice against sexual violence,” she says.