India: Mission Fight Back – Testimonies

Publication

Jul 13, 2019

By Lt. Col. Rohit Mishra (Retd.)
CEO of Mission Fight Back 

What is it like?

What is a father supposed to do when his child is being stalked? Or when a woman is being beaten up? Or a child molested by his religious teacher?

Mostly, they do nothing.

Our society even has a way of re-victimizing people, alienating them altogether using shaming and rejection behaviour against survivors. To hide their incompetence and to maintain crime rates on the low side, the police don’t even register sexual harassment complaints, and domestic violence and marital rapes are simply not considered a crime in India. Victims and their families also tend to look the other way, and suffer in silence. But sometimes, people do unite and hit back, exhibiting an extraordinary strength. Moral courage remains the backbone of their action but now, women and girls are also adopting new initiatives such as learning combat techniques to preserve their safety and to enforce justice.

The following are testimonies from people who have participated in Mission Fight Back’s programs.

The Father

I raised Faith, my daughter, as I would have raised a son, I rendered her fearless and ready to stand up for her beliefs. I remember an incident at a party we went to years ago. Boys were throwing nasty sexual comments at a girl who was Faith’s friend. There, I watched my daughter stand her ground in front of them all. She demanded apologies from the boys. She was twelve. Then we started fighting them – the sight of the father-and-daughter duo punching and kicking the boys was as funny to us as it was embarrassing to the guests and party hosts alike. But it was the reaction of the other girls that most surprised me. They hugged us tightly and said that most likely their own fathers, who were there, standing and watching, would have told them to simply ignore the harassment.

“You are our hero!” one said, and her words felt like a medal on my chest.

Later on came the negative gossips about Faith and what they called her “un-ladylike behaviour.” Whether you want it or not, these things do have an impact on a child’s psyche.

A couple of years later, we moved to a new town and my business kept me away from home a lot. Thus, it took me more than a year to notice the changes in Faith’s character. My outgoing and outspoken girl had become quiet and reclusive. One night, my wife asked me to move Faith to a new school as she wasn’t enjoying her current one and her grades had gone down. I wish I had spent more time talking to my daughter then, rather than shifting schools without further inquiry into the matter. Another year passed and her grades went further south. One day, when I was back in town and having a drink with the boys, Faith called me up and said “Dad, save me, I can’t take it anymore.” Those words shattered my world as I learned that a senior boy from her previous school was harassing my daughter. He had even moved to the new school by submitting fake papers. The boy was threatening Faith with dire consequences, which included acid attacks, if she didn’t comply with his demands. He had openly slapped Faith at school, and apparently bullied and scared the other kids into silence using a knife and a gun. After initial assistance, the high-end school she was attending refused to even speak to us. The police maintained a nonchalant attitude that exasperated me; I had never felt more helpless and frustrated in my entire life. There was my daughter asking me for help and I had no idea how to ensure her safety. I only knew that the boy wasn’t harmless and that he had done time in juvenile prison.

That’s when I approached Mission Fight Back. Colonel Rohit Mishra’s team trained my daughter to defend herself, while helping me pressure the police into actively looking for the stalker and stopping him from hurting people.

It worked, and the boy was caught and sent to two more weeks in juvenile prison; however, he came back with more desire for vengeance.

However, this time around, Faith wasn’t scared. The MFB team’s psychologist helped her come out of her shell and brought back the Faith I knew: the self-defense training had filled her up with confidence.

Faith didn’t get into a hand-to-hand fight with her stalker when he stopped her car and threatened her and her mother with violence if she didn’t withdraw her complaint against him. Instead, she remained calm, she took out her mobile phone and recorded the entire episode. The training had helped her keep her self-control, and she and her mother drove to the police station with the recorded evidence. The boy was picked up and sent to juvenile again, as a repeated offender this time.

All this happened while I was out of town.

Today, my girl is back, with all her confidence and her smiles. Her grades have improved and she is the school sports team’s captain. The boy is out of jail by now and understands the consequences of his actions.

As for my daughter, she is now my hero and I shall remain her eternal fan.

The Wife

It’s strange that the very same man who physically and mentally abuses a woman can happily go out and pray to a goddess for his own success and happiness. I don’t know if the goddess listens to such men; all I know is that she doesn’t listen to us, women of India. There are millions of people like me, trapped in a domestic lockup with marital rape and physical abuse happening every other night.

Things are so bad for us that most ladies here don’t ever understand the purpose of education; they never get to apply their acquired knowledge. Education becomes just another skill in our favour, one more box ticked in the list of assets a girl brings along, apart from the dowry that determines her ultimate value.

I was married off right after I finished my Master’s in Business Administration. My husband never allowed me to work, even when we lived in bustling and cosmopolitan city like Mumbai. As for the beating, it started with a slap and a minor argument. It never stopped.

I have often wondered if things would have been different had I stopped his hand from hitting my face the first or even the second time. I will never know. It’s like the psychotic fear between a human and a snake. The human is scared (and disgusted) of the snake and the snake fears the human. So it becomes all about who attacks first.

A friend of mine introduced me to Mission Fight Back, and they trained me to defend myself mentally and physically. Then, the day came when I walked out of my husband’s house with my daughters, head held high and with a fearless heart. I had just defused his blow, pulled his arm and tackled him to the ground as taught by my Mission Fight Back instructor Gaurav Sir.

“You do have to fight back to keep from being put down, taken advantage of, or taken for granted,” he likes to say.

The education I received there was immediately put to use and I know exactly what purpose it serves. My daughter will never have to bow to sheer force and the cowardice that goes with it.

The Child

Did you know that sudden trauma can make you literally lose your voice? Believe me, it does. I lost mine once, when I was ten years old.

In my religion, education in a formal school, even an all-girls one, is considered sinful. Therefore, my parents were convinced that they were making the best choice when they decided to send me to a religious school, otherwise known as Madrasa. The comforting feeling was further reinforced when a religious teacher, a position socially revered in my world, came to our house and proposed to my poverty-stricken parents to educate me for free at a school that he ran. They were bound to feel like the door to a promising future was opening for us. It was just perfect. Or was it?

The day it happened, I was feeling too lazy to get up and get ready. My loving and nurturing father coddled me, but also sent me on my way to school. My mother was away for work and my younger brother was still fast asleep – that’s how my days usually started.

I didn’t know then that what was about to happen would strip away my childhood. The episodes are blurry in my mind. but I remember that when I came home that afternoon, I told my father that I wasn’t hungry and I went straight to bed. Later in the evening, I realized that I wasn’t able to speak. Words would simply not come out of my mouth; meanwhile everyone else seemed to be speaking too loud. I remember a discomforting silence engulfing me. The next morning, while washing my clothes, my mother saw a suspicious stain on my undergarment. I was rushed to a hospital and handed over to a team of doctors.

Everything happened very fast after that.

I couldn’t speak and by now, I was also scared to death by anyone touching me. Yet, doctors said I was just fine. I couldn’t quite understand why I was being hospitalized but then, I met Ashima Didi (an honorary name for sister) and I assumed that I was in there to play with her. She was good to me and very patient. It was always nice to see her but still, whenever I would try to say something, there would be no words forming on my lips. Fortunately, Ashima Didi never forced me to talk, while the others always threatened me into speaking. I tried my best, but I just couldn’t. It was all so confusing.

My only solace was the one hour when I got to play with her. We would play with dolls and clay; she would draw and colour with me or sometimes she would just sit with me, as quiet as I had become myself. I felt safe whenever she was around but I don’t know how many days passed before I could muster the courage to hold her hand. She responded with a smile and my grip tightened.

Once, when I was playing with her, I hit her by mistake and with a sudden rush I said “Sorry.” I panicked and quickly shut my mouth covering it with my hand. Ashima Didi did not say anything. The next few days I went through many more incidents when desperate words struggled inside me, wanting to jump out of my mouth. At one point, while we were playing, she was holding some papers and on one of them she had written an incomplete sentence: “When I am alone, I…”

I just took a pencil and completed the sentence: “cry.” When she asked me about it, I actually started crying, Silently, she hugged me. I felt something lifting inside me and my silent tears turned into howling. I told her what the religious teacher had done to me. Initially he was just touching me, which was confusing enough, but he kept getting bolder. I am not sure how it happened, but my father told me later that the police detained the teacher thanks to Ashima Didi and to some well-connected people she knew. Over the next couple of months, slowly and gradually, I regained my ability to speak.

Now that I think of it, I realise how crucial “playing” with Ashima Didi was. Those sessions gave me not just an opportunity to express my trauma but also helped me rebuild my shattered self into a whole person again.

Ashima Didi taught me to speak again, but the most important thing was that she taught my family and me to fight back. In a society blindfolded with the shroud of religion, there are millions of girls like me falling prey to the lust of men who use religion as a weapon to fulfill and achieve their aims every day. These sexual predators have been emboldened by our collective silence.

We have to learn to speak up and fight back, else we will keep suffering in the hands of the men who claim to be the custodians of religion and traditions. I realized that I had lost my voice for some time, but women have been losing theirs for ages. I regained it now and I want women all over the world to learn to speak up to reclaim it as well.