Meet the 40-year-old who has empowered over 1.5 lakh women through self-defence
The welfare and safety of women is an integral pillar of democracy. However, gender-based abuse and discrimination against women are repressing them from participating in the workplace, economy, and the society as a whole.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in three (35 percent) women across the world experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. When it comes to India, the scenario is even more bleak.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 4,05,861 crimes against women were registered in the country during 2019, and this marked an increase of 7.3 percent when compared to 2018 (3,78,236 cases). Majority of the atrocities included murder, rape, dowry death, suicide abetment, acid attack, and kidnapping. A poll of 548 global experts released by Thompson Reuters in 2018 ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women, ahead of Afghanistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
With a view to change this, 40-year-old Aparna Rajawat laid the foundation for a non-governmental organisation called Pink Belt Mission in 2016. Though the NGO is based in Agra, it empowers women from across the country with all the tools required to stay aware, fight violence, and respond to challenges.
Pink Belt Mission has designed and implemented three different programmes centered around self-defence, education, and vocational training. So far, it has impacted the lives of over 1.5 lakh young girls and women.
“Being a woman in India, I have myself experienced several injustices and inequalities. But eventually I understood the significance of acquiring the skills and confidence to lead an independent life. And I did not want other women to suffer from the same kind of maltreatment and oppression that I went through. So, I decided to establish Pink Belt Mission,” says Aparna.
Eliciting the trigger
Born and brought up in Agra, Aparna had two elder brothers who used to bully her. While they would spend their time flying kites and playing gilli danda, she was restrained to being at home most of the time.
“When I was stepping into my teenage, I joined karate classes. I knew that the only way to empower and safeguard myself was to learn self-defence. I continued my journey in learning the martial art form and mastered several moves - from knee strikes, axe kicks, side thrusts to foot sweeps. I also began taking to dance as a hobby,” Aparna recalls.
Just when Aparna was about to turn 18, she met with an accident that resulted in multiple fractures, due to which she had to discontinue these activities for a while. Later, she went on to direct all her energy towards academics. She pursued her Masters in English Literature from Dr B.R. Ambedkar University and then completed her MBA at Manav Bharti University, Solan. Though she kicked off her career in the field of sales, she subsequently became a tour manager for international trips.
Aparna was touring abroad when she heard about the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old girl inside a moving bus in Delhi. The horrific incident, which occurred in December 2012, reminded her about the stark reality of exploitation against women in India.
That was when Aparna’s resolve to empower women grew stronger. After spending a few years doing research and laying the groundwork, she set up Pink Belt Mission.
Empowering women, one step at a time
To start with, Aparna pooled in her personal savings to meet the NGO’s day-to-day operating expenses.
“Since education is one of the best tools to enable women to achieve their social, economic, and career goals, the first initiative was focused on the same. At the outset, we identified young underprivileged girls in and around Agra who had either dropped out of school or were struggling to obtain education. And then, we began sponsoring their school fees,” says Aparna.
Till date, Pink Belt Mission has sponsored the education of more than 28 girls.
Another programme that the NGO is known for is to do with vocational training. For this, Aparna collaborated with Mansi Chandra, a businesswoman who runs a shoe factory called Tara Innovations in Agra. Mansi taught unskilled and unemployed women the nitty-gritties of shoe making, handling machinery, and managing assembly lines. At the end of it, she also employed 150 of them in her factory.
While these two initiatives have been running consistently, Pink Belt Mission’s signature programme is that of training girls and women in self-defence. The organisation has been taking help from the UP police force (including the Women Power Line), Rajasthan State Commission for Women, and UNICEF to connect with schools as well as colleges and implement the programme.
“We conduct a free three-day workshop for girls and women where we enlighten them about various tools and techniques involved in self-defence. I personally take sessions to strengthen them to escape from potential abuse and also teach them to fight back. Broadly, the entire initiative revolves around empowering women emotionally, mentally, legally, physically, and digitally,” notes Aparna.
Since its inception, the NGO has trained approximately 1.5 lakh girls and women, who in turn have equipped many more across Gorakhpur, Agra, Noida, Jaipur, Varanasi, Pune, Lucknow among other cities.
33-year-old Asha Singh is one of them. Asha, an IT professional who works in Agra, attended the self-defence workshop organised by Pink Belt Mission in 2018 and found it to be extremely empowering.
“I learnt a lot during the course of the workshop. I felt confident after I understood how I could take safety into my own hands, rather than depending on others. Besides, practising self-defence moves has improved my physical condition as well as reflexes,” Asha says.
Pink Belt Mission is presently looking to garner funds from both individuals and corporates in order to expand its reach.
“One of the biggest challenges that I have been dealing with is lack of support from government authorities. I have written to the Uttar Pradesh government multiple times expressing my interest to work with them on the Mission Shakti campaign. Sadly, I have not received any response from them so far. I feel that the NGO can benefit a lot more women with a little bit of assistance from the government,” says Aparna.
Edited by Megha Reddy