“Until I started training a few weeks ago, I never imagined self-defense was remotely possible for us,” Chumbitha says. “I thought we didn’t have any kind of a chance, that we were totally helpless in an attack.”
Vision-impaired Chumbitha is from Mandya around 100 kms distance from Bangalore. She lives in a hostel in Bangalore and works at a food processing company in the neighborhood, assisting with client meetings and front office work.
Last year, AIF’s ABLE program received a grant from Circle of Hope-Boston to create a self-defense project called RAISEWISE (Raise Women with disabilities in Social Engagement). The training is geared towards women aged 18 to 35 years with hearing, vision, and locomotor impairments. RAISEWISE aims to empower 100 girls and women in self-defense training and develop capabilities for their overall well-being.
The objective, says Girish R. Gowda, their trainer, is to help provide the disabled with a sense of “calm and confidence” and “a fighting chance” in situations that can be dangerous, sometimes life-threatening. The women are given stretching and muscle-toning exercises and practice punching skills on a focus mitt. They also learn three-step techniques for striking back at attackers.
AIF’s Circle of Hope (CoH) is a unique women’s network formed as a giving circle – a way of shared giving and social philanthropy. Members pool resources and engage in collective decision-making on the allocation of funds. The successful intervention of the Boston group has inspired other AIF groups too. The Chicago Circle of Hope members, led by long-time AIF supporter Masha Sajdeh, are in the final stages of deciding where their grant will go, and are set to make the announcement in March 2019.
RAISEWISE, the Boston Circle of Hope-sponsored self-defense project, first of its kind in AIF, seeks to show that people with disabilities can indeed defend themselves effectively with basic defense tactics. Weekly sessions offer physical training along with sessions on life-skills, soft skills and financial literacy. In February this year, Farida Kathawalla and Nirmala Garimella, representatives from Boston’s Circle of Hope visited the training center at Cheshire Disability Trust in Bangalore and awarded certificates to the candidates who had successfully completed the course in self-defense. Shri V. S. Basavaraju, Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of Karnataka graced the graduation ceremony with his presence as Chief Guest.
There are no government statistics on the numbers and types of crimes against the disabled, but specialists on disability issues argue that studies have pointed to a profoundly disturbing trend: Disabled people apparently comprise the highest-risk group as victims of violent crime.
Beneficiaries of the RAISEWISE project finally have a sense of empowerment and enhanced self-confidence. The physicality of it makes them feel strong. As more and more PwDs enter mainstream, the need for self-defense grows.