Nishastra: A blend of techniques, real-life experiences shared by survivors of sexual violence

By Ankit Meena*

Violence against women is globally pervasive and exists in every country. It cuts across all the boundaries of caste, culture, education, income, age, and ethnicity. The worst manifestations of it, however, can be seen in developing or underdeveloped countries of the world, especially South Asia where women and girls are born into a social and cultural system steeped in inequity and discrimination.

As per the reports published by WHO, 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either sexual and/or physical abuse at some point in their lifetime. This number not only indicates the violation of women’s rights but is a clear public health problem. Most of the violence reported is domestic or intimate partner violence. Worldwide, 30% of the women who have been in a relationship report that they have faced some sort of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Not only this, 38% of the murders globally of women are committed by a male intimate partner. These acts of violence against women committed by men are linked with factors like low education, harmful use of alcohol, a history of child mistreatment, exposure to domestic violence within their families, unequal gender norms like acceptance of violence attitude, or consideration of superiority over women.

These numbers are not only nauseating but rather shockingly very less and doesn’t tell the complete picture of society. Most of the cases of domestic or intimate partner violence are not reported due to attitudes of acceptance, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status in society. A result of this is that less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek the help of any sort.

Where COVID-19 gave many of us time to reconnect with our families due to enforced lockdown worldwide, it didn’t help with the numbers of domestic violence against women, rather increased it substantially. The effect of it is such that the distress calls to helplines have increased five-folds in some countries. Many countries responded to this by integrating violence against women into their COVID-19 response plans and some also adopted measures to strengthen services for women survivors of violence during the pandemic but these efforts are far from what is required.

The cases of domestic violence are often linked to societal issues which are considered are considered as a larger problem and time-consuming and sometimes very difficult or unsolvable. These pre-existing issues have forced women to accept these acts of violence against them often considering themselves helpless. This is why there is a pressing need to educate women with self-defense training, especially in the lower strata of the socio-economic structure where pre-existing societal norms are most prevalent and women fail to find a voice for themselves. This is where “NISHASTRA” can create a huge impact, especially in a country like India.

NISHASTRA is a self-defense technique developed by Red Brigade Lucknow, a trust registered under the Indian Trust Act 1892. NISHASTRA is a blend of learnings of various techniques, incidences, situations, and real-life experiences shared by survivors of sexual violence. It has been constructed as a blend of self-defense techniques of several countries that specifically fit for the purpose of self-defense against sexual violence. This initiative of voice against sexual violence was started by Usha Vishwakarma, along with a group of 15 young women and girls. Most of them are survivors of sexual violence and come from lower strata of socio-economic structure; based out of Lucknow. In their journey from 2011, they have trained over 1,57,000 girls and women with the technique of NISHASTRA and many of them have joined them as instructors to educate others in their journey to empower women. These efforts have not gone unnoticed and the founder and chief managing trustee of the trust has received several recognitions including:

  • Forbes India Magazine Self-made Women 2020 India’s Top 20 Women Achievers.
  • Rani Laxmi Bai award (by Govt. of Uttar Pradesh).
  • The title “100 Women Achievers of India” by Honorable President of India.

In a country where progress and development are given a priority and steps are being taken to prevent acts of violence against women and various legislatures are being created and enacted on routine bases, there still remains a dark side of crimes against women like harassment, rape, sexual assault, acid attacks, etc. These acts of violence have seen a continuous increase despite all the efforts and worsened India’s situation. Even today, at least one woman every two minutes in the country is a victim of some form of sexual abuse and crime. This figure is not just a number but a pathetic scenario of women in the country.

In order to develop a society where women are empowered and capable enough to fight and act against any attempt of violence against them, the need to train them with self-defense techniques is dire. A technique like NISHASTRA should be mandatorily included in the course curriculum for school students to provide them with an early age exposure to self-defense training to prevent or at least give a fighting chance against any heinous crimes. Moreover, educating children via this about acts of violence and providing them with a perspective of what is right and what is not can go a long way in improving public health as well.

In order to learn more about NISHASTRA, I got an opportunity to interact with many instructors, activists, and other people working to implement self-defense training in their respective societies explaining the urgent need for it due to the increasing rates of crimes against women. Understanding the ground reality from them which differs from the reported numbers by a huge margin, gives a clear perspective about the scenario in the country and the urgent need to implement self-defense training in the course curriculum of the students as a step towards empowering women.



*2nd year MBA Student at IIM Ahmedabad

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