Meet the actor-cum-martial artist who is empowering girls to fight sexual violence with self-defence lessons

Ishita Sharma set up Mumbai-based MukkaMaar to empower students and enable them to fight back against assaults and attacks. The organisation has trained 3,000 girls across 47 schools in a year, and plans to reach out to another 1,000 schools soon.
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India isn’t a safe country for women. Umpteen statistics and reports show this, and the rising cases of violence, assaults, and rapes across the nation have created an atmosphere of fear in the minds of women and girls. To change this mindset, Ishita Sharma, an actor-cum-martial artist, started MukkaMaar, a Mumbai-based organisation that trains students in different forms of martial art, self-defence techniques, and mental strength exercises.

Several women and children across India have been subjected to sexual violence and assault.

A 2016 report by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) stated that more than 4.4 lakh women and children were victims of assault and cruelty, in that year. However,  this number is only restricted to registered cases; it would be much higher if unreported cases were taken into account. 

MukkaMaar, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) established by Ishita Sharma  in 2018, is attempting to bring change in this space by taking prompt and effective steps to avert violence against women.  Her organisation trains students belonging to Class 6, 7, and 8 in different forms of martial art, self-defence techniques, as well as, mental strength exercises.

MukkaMaar trains girls at the school level in self-defence.

The three-year, free-of-cost engagement programme focuses on multiple aspects surrounding physical fitness, emotional stability, sensitisation towards abuse, solidarity, and legal counsel. MukkaMaar has empowered and touched the lives of a whopping 3,000 girls across 47 schools in Mumbai, in a span of  a year. 

“Being a Kung Fu  practitioner myself, I know the power that self-defence holds, especially when it comes to women. It brings confidence and courage, helps break loose from the shackles of gender-based violence. I set up MukkaMaar to ensure just that,” says Ishita Sharma, Founder and Managing Trustee, MukkaMaar.  


The inception of MukkaMaar

Ishita is an actor-cum-martial artist, who has featured in the magical drama series, ‘Shaka Laka Boom Boom’  and in movies like Loins of Punjab Presents.’ 

The seed of MukkaMaar was sown after Ishita watched a documentary titled ‘Daughters of Mother India’ that highlighted the aftermath of the rape and death of a 23-year-old medical intern in 2012 in Delhi. The documentary left her shaken and restless, and she wanted to do her bit to avert horrific acts like molestation and rape.

Ishita Sharma, Founder and Managing Trustee, MukkaMaar.

Since Ishita has herself experienced the strength and liberation that comes with fighting back, she wanted to help other women inculcate the same mindset. And thus, MukkaMaar was born. 

“I still remember the day when I was chased by a group of men while driving down home in my car. Instead of getting scared and attempting to get away, I rolled down my window and raised my voice against them. In a matter of few seconds, they were nowhere to be seen. This incident kept running in my mind after watching the documentary. So, I decided to share what I felt with people through MukkaMaar,” Ishita recollects. 

Girls being trained in self-defence at Versova Beach in Mumbai.

Though MukkaMaar officially came into existence in 2018, Ishita started working on setting it up two years prior to it. She marked the inception by organising a free self-defence session for a small group of girls at Versova Beach, Mumbai. Within a few months, the number grew from  five to a 100. By 2017, some of the girls began entering several district and state-level competitions and even won. 

“At that juncture I realised the potential of making girls stronger and teaching them self-defence. I made some changes to the offering and expanded operations,” Ishita notes. 


An endeavour towards a better tomorrow

MukkaMaar has collaborated with schools across the city with the help of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to train girls in self-defence. The drill is included in the school curriculum, wherein and sessions are held for two-hours every week.

With more than 14 trainers, MukkaMaar not only teaches students physical fitness and mixed martial arts like Kung Fu, Karate and Kalaripayattu, but also trains them in specific techniques they can use when attacked or tied down. This includes blocks, punches, kicks, knee attacks, grappling, holds, locks, throws, etc. However, this is not all. 

Ishita Sharma training a girl in mixed martial arts.

“Our curriculum is not limited to training girls in physical fitness, stamina and agility but also includes many modules focused on verbal self-defence. The modules also create awareness about aspects like good and bad touch, sexual abuse, child helpline numbers, solidarity, legal rights, as well as, reportage of crimes,” Ishita says

In addition to the above, in case any of the girls are interested in pursuing martial arts as a career or in participating in tournaments, MukkaMaar supports them both financially and otherwise. 

MukkaMaar's training session in progress at a school in Mumbai.

Bootstrapped for the first two years, the organisation received a round of funds from Quadrific Media, a Kolkata-based online gaming company, at the end of 2017. Currently, MukkaMaar is incubated by NCore, a Bengaluru-based foundation that supports and accelerates non-profit ventures. 



Empowering girls to defend themselves 

Fifteen-year-old Soni Sharma's mother never allowed her to go out after it was dark. She used to attend classes at New Versova Municipal School in Mumbai and got back home as soon as possible. Soni’s mother was very particular about what she wore, who she met, how she spoke, and where she went. With so many news stories about rape and sexual violence, her mother was scared. 

“When I heard about MukkaMaar conducting sessions on self-defence, I was interested to join. But my mother did not approve of it initially. It took me quite some time to convince her. Once I started training with them, I felt so empowered that I simply did not want to stop learning. So, I practised for around two  years and until I began teaching other girls. I even went on to win a silver and gold medal in Kung Fu, at the District Mumbai Suburban level, after which my mother stopped hesitating to send me out of home after 7 pm,” Soni says. 

Soni Sahani (left) after winning a reward from MukkaMaar for her extraordinary contribution.

This is one of the many changes that MukkaMaar has witnessed after teaching self-defence to girls. After impacting the lives of 3,000 girls across 47 schools by providing 3,500 hours of training, the organisation is presently scaling up its efforts to reach out to another 1,000 schools in the city. 

“Sixty-six percent of rapes have been deterred across India due to women fighting for themselves. This is an empowering statistic. MukkaMaar’s goal is to make this a 100 percent. However, we have just scratched the surface; there is a long way to go,” Ishita says. 

(Edited by Suman Singh)

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