Red brigade takes on predators

Self-defence techniques taught to women

Road Romeos in Lucknow take to heels on seeing a bunch of women.

Usha Vishwakarma was barely 18 when a colleague tried to rape her. Though she managed to escape, the trauma haunted her for over a year. A few days before the rape attempt, a little girl, who was taking tuition from her, had been raped by her own uncle. The two incidents had a serious impact on Usha, daughter of a labourer and resident of Madiaon locality on the outskirts of Lucknow. She wanted to make sure that no girl had to suffer the trauma that she and the little girl had undergone.
And five years later the Red Brigade, a group of young women vigilantes, who believe in “an eye for an eye” while dealing with the molesters, came into existence. “It started about two years ago with a few girls. Many of them are teens and from my locality and nearby areas. A majority of them had been subjected to eve teasing on one occasion or the other,” Usha said. 
“We knew that the girls would have to learn ways to protect themselves. No one will come forward to help... we will have to instill fear in the minds of those who dare to even think of molesting the girls,”  Usha told Deccan Herald. She said that she could come out of her shock and trauma with the help of her friends. “Many may not be lucky. Some are even killed by the rapists and those who survive live with the stigma throughout their lives,” she added.

Usha laments that even the families of the victim, many a time, do not help them. “I know many girls, whose families stopped them from going to the school only because they had been molested,” she said and added that the girls, in this way, are the biggest losers.

“They lose it both ways... they are humiliated and then they also are deprived of education,” she added.     A student of masters in sociology, Usha knows well about the social fabric in the country. “India is a male-dominated country... the women are not given much importance... they are considered weak... I want to change this impression,” she said.

And Usha and her group has indeed managed to change that impression, at least in Madiaon and the nearby localities. According to the residents of the area, the “bad boys” take to heels the moment they see a member of the Red Brigade. “We have taught lessons to many a roadside Romeos...none now dares to pass a lewd comment on us as they fear retaliation,” claimed Usha. 

Usha and her group members, however, had to face a lot of problems also. “I myself had to face a lot of difficulties when I started retaliating to check molestation,” she said. 
“Once I lodged a complaint against a youth for molesting a girl and also asked his family to admonish him. Instead, the family filed a complaint against me in the police station accusing me of  threatening him,” Usha said. 

She said that the police also, often, sided with the culprits. “In my case also, the policemen came to my house at night and inquired about me...I was not present and my mother was very much perturbed over the incident,” she added. The police officials, however, have not taken kindly to the vigilante group's actions and say that it was illegal.

Usha, however, said that the members use force only as a last resort. “We first try to speak to the molester... we tell him that he should not be doing such things and that the girls of his own family may also become victims,” she claimed. “If that does not work, we approach their families and ask them to rein them in... force is used only as a last resort... we also try to shame such youths publicly... like shouting at them in full public view or chasing them,” Usha said. 
“We have been able to make life a little bit safer for the girls in the locality,” she added. Incidentally, it was the molesters who gave the group the name Red Brigade. “It is not our creation... since we are attired in red kurtas and black salwars, the youth started calling our group the Red Brigade,” Usha said.

She said that  the membership of the group has crossed 100 now. “We are adding new members every day... more and more girls are joining us”, she said. The Red Brigade is now also taking up the cases of rape and ensuring that the culprits are punished. “Recently, we took up the case of the rape of a 13-year-old girl in Misripur village near here... we also took out a candlelight procession demanding justice for her,” she said.
The group organises protest march on the streets of the state capital on 29th of every month. “We are also going to organise a nine-day-long camp here in which the girls will be given training in self-defence... besides being taught about gender issues... there will be 50 girls in the training camp,” she pointed out.Funds are a big problem for the group. “We have no source of income... so far we are managing things from our pockets... from whatever we get from our parents,” she said. Usha said that the families of the members of the group have also now started supporting them. “They too have realised that the girls will have to defend themselves... no one will help them unless they help themselves,” she said. She, however, lamented that many in society still look at them with contempt. “Many people find us a menace... they feel that we are spoiling the other girls and that we should confine ourselves to homes,” she said.
Usha is undeterred. “We will continue with our programme... our fight is not against any individual... it is against the system and is aimed at changing the male mindset and we will succeed one day,” she said with confidence.

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