Yesterday, I attended a school function wherein the children were taught self defence techniques. It was organised by the Red Brigade- a fierce group of women led by Usha Vishwakarma, who train girls to defend themselves.
When I spoke, I called a boy and a girl to play an Association game. Typically one speaks a word, and then the person responds with the first thought which comes to his or her mind.
‘Woman’, I said. The young boy ( this was one of the most reputed schools in the city) responded,’ Someone who works for the household and works for the welfare of the family.’
I did not show that I was stunned. I addressed the girl.
‘Man?’ I asked. ‘ Someone who earns money for the family,’ she answered.
Of course that was material enough to start a talk on ‘conditioning’, gender issues, stereotypes, breaking stereotypes and empowerment.
‘ Can a woman earn money for the family?’ I asked the boy.
He reflected soberly, saw his teachers – all of them women, looking at him- and nodded briskly.
‘ Can a woman become the President of India?’
He thought-probably remembered his general knowledge exams- and nodded yes.
‘ Can a woman climb Mount Everest?’
He thought hard and then said, yes.
‘ Can a woman win a Nobel Prize?’
This time the answer was quicker. Yes.
‘ So can we think of a woman as not just someone who works for her household and takes care of the family? She can be what she wants to be? She can achieve anything and still take care of her family? She is a human being who has as much potential as a man?’
He looked at me and nodded. It was sincere, I saw that.
By the time I turned to the girl, the kids had caught onto the game.
‘ Can a man take care of his household and care for his family?’
They said in a chorus: ‘ Yesssss’
‘ Can a man be a care giver to infants and children?’
‘ Yes, yes…’
‘ Can a man cook food for his partner when she returns home after a hard day’s work?’
‘ Can we look beyond gender and see human beings for a change? They have equal potential. Let us not restrict them within narrow stereotypes and limit their gifts. Let them be what they want to be. Let us learn to respect the human being beyond the dictates of gender, religion, caste, colour, creed, nationality…’
‘ Yes’, they said.
Usha took over. And gave realistic illustration of the phrase ‘ self-empowerment.’
‘No attacker will be gentle’, she said.’ So learn how to protect yourself…’.
I had goose bumps as I watched the plucky trainer narrate real life incidents and give tips for survival. Smart girl students, even martial arts trainees, fell and rolled on the ground as the group illustrated the harshness of attacks. Then they were taught the ways to protect themselves. A lesson for both boys and girls alike.
Evil has no gender. Neither does courage.