AFTER nearly three weeks of lurid reporting on a horrifying gang-rape in New Delhi, women in the Indian capital say they are more anxious than ever, leading to a surge in interest in self-defence classes.
New Delhi has long been known as the “rape capital of India”, with more than twice as many cases in 2011 as the commercial hub Mumbai, and special care is taken by most women when travelling at night or on public transport.
But the December 16 gang-rape, in which a 23-year-old student was repeatedly violated on a moving bus and assaulted with an iron bar, has brought concern to new levels amid increased focus on the city’s safety record.
Self-defence trainer Anuj Sharma says he has fielded a flurry of calls from concerned women interested in taking classes with his Invictus Survival Sciences training institute in south Delhi.
“There has been a certain surge in the level of demand for services like self-defence and personal protective training,” Sharma told AFP at a class in a school hall, echoing comments from other martial arts experts in the city.
“I think this infamous case has forced people to think that they can no longer put this (safety issue) on the backburner, self-defence is a priority for them,” he said.
Smriti Iyer, a 23-year-old student like the Delhi victim, says she started coming to Sharma’s classes to protect herself better and her example has sparked interest in other friends.
In the classes, Sharma teaches her basic self-defence, including how to squirm free from the grip of an attacker and disable them with a punch or kick to the groin.
Across the sprawling city of 16 million, shopkeepers say sales of pepper spray and rape alarms are up, while many young women report relatives have become more concerned than ever about their welfare.
One newspaper reported this week that women had started coming forward to apply for gun licences.
Jai Shankar, owner of a general store on the Janpath main road in central New Delhi, told AFP sales of pepper sprays had been “brisk” since the gang-rape, which has galvanised disgust over rising crime against women.
Ashima Sagar, a 22-year-old sales assistant in Shankar’s shop who takes the “relatively safer” metro train with reserved carriages for women at night, says her mother has become almost paranoid.
A survey by industry group ASSOCHAM published on Friday showed a 40 percent fall in productivity of women employees at call centres and IT companies because many had reduced their hours or had quit.
As anxiety takes root, meaning in many cases that women simply stay at home more, activists have raised their voices to condemn the state for failing to offer protection.
There were 24,206 cases of rape registered in 2011 in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, but this is thought to be a gross under-representation.