In 2006, Usha Vishwakarma was teaching children in a slum when a co-worker tried to rape her. Though she had read about a lot of cases of rape and sexual harassment, it was a huge shock when it happened to her. Although she was traumatised, the incident motivated her to play her part in ending the menace of sexual assault.
After a few years of intense training in martial arts, Usha started Red Brigade in 2011. Based out of Lucknow, with the help of volunteers, Usha has given martial arts training to more than 47,000 women and young girls. Although this doesn’t mean that these thousands will be safe from all forms of sexual harassment, they will be prepared to fight it. Talking about the importance of the initiative, to The Times of India, she said,
"It is the woman who bears the brunt in every case of sexual harassment. No one comes to her rescue and she gets hardly any help from administration or police."
When Usha started Red Brigade, all her volunteers were just 16 years old. Now, she works with more than 50 volunteers in the age group of 15–30, all of whom have been subjected to abuse or harassment within the family or by strangers.
Along with training the women and girls, Red Brigade also tries to ward off the perpetrators of violence. They approach the men and try to explain to them that what they are doing is wrong and that it will have consequences. When they cannot be stopped with that, the women take to publicly shaming them or involving their families. When none of this works, they approach the police. Jyoti, who takes care of Red Brigade's day-to-day operations, told India Times,
“Most of the young girls have been victims of molestation or rape in the past. They are survivors. Our organisation provides training to these young women in self-defence. We educate them on their rights and the laws associated with different types of violence against women. Survivors are the backbone of Red Brigade and are in leading roles.”
Volunteers dress in red T-shirts and black pants — while red denotes struggle, black signifies protest.
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