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Amrita Mohan, a young woman who dared to take on street harassment in Kerala using her Karate and Kalari skills
On February 14th, when Amrita Mohan was returning from the One Billion Rising event at Thiruvananthapuram, she and her family friends were harassed by some men. Amrita chose to respond with a skill that she had mastered over the last 12 years – Karate and Kalari. Borrowing from a co-member in an egroup, Amrita need not be an exception. Our daughters can be the same.
Read below the transcript of an interview with Amrita Mohan which was broadcasted in Asianet News. For those of you who understand Malayalam, you can listen to her at this interview:
Note: This is not a word to word translation. I have tried to keep the gist of the matter.
Presenter: Recently we heard about Arya, who gained prominence for protesting against an anti-woman tirade in Thiruvananthapuram. Yesterday, yet another girl sets an example for women. When street harassers abused her with expletives, Amrita beat them up and handed them over to the Police. That’s was how Amrita demonstrated woman strength.
Note: There is a voice over at this point. However, the details stated are a little different from what Amrita says. So, I am not translating the entire part. But here is Amrita’s introduction.
This is Amrita. Kalari Payattu Champion. She has a black belt in Karate. She was the Chairperson in All Saints College. She has also been a part of the NCC Air Wing.
Presenter: Amrita is here with us in the studio. Amrita, can you please describe your experience? How many people were there in the car? How did the abuses begin?
Amrita: I was returning from the program, One Billion Rising. There was a Vyapari Vyavasayi Bandh on the day, and therefore hotels were not open. We were a group of two families. We stopped at a Thattukada near Bakery Junction for food. My father and my friend’s father had gone to order some food. I was on a bike and the rest of them were in a Jeep. We were all girls waiting there. I think, these men assumed that we were a group of girls. They came, looked at my friend’s sister and asked her, “What? Looks like you had some trouble with our honking.”
(Note: The “you” in English language does not allow me to differentiate between the Tu, the Tum and the Aap. In this exchange, the abusers were using the “tu”reference)
They started commenting at us.
So I asked, “What’s the problem here?”
They started saying “Edeee, Vaadee, Podi” and the tone of the conversation was of the offensive kind.
(Note: These are just some disrespectful ways of addressing women. Sometimes people in close relationships may use these words without being disrespectful, but when strangers use it to address women, it is clearly a show of power)
I told them, “How can you say these things while sitting in a “Govt. of Kerala” vehicle?”
He said, “ You called me “thaan” and “Eda”. You will suffer for doing that.”
(Eda is the male form of edi)
A fierce argument had begun at that point. When I was speaking to him, there were many people around. But none of them spoke a word. People, who were with me, were also silent. My mother, my friends and their mother, were there. But they were afraid and did not know what to do. It was dark and we had parked our car a little away. My father and Uncle were not close by.
I told these guys, “You should go now.”
When I said that, they started hurling extreme abuses at us and started to drive away.
Presenter: Had they parked their car near your bike?
Amrita: The vehicles were on the road. When I was speaking to them, there were only two people. The thing is, when they said such extreme abuses, for a moment, I thought, “Gosh. How can I not react to this?”
So I said, “If you are smart, come back.”
Now, they became confident that there were no men with us. They came back after 2 -3 minutes. There were four men now.
By that time, uncle had brought our food.
There was a Pan Masala shop close by. This guy stood there and told me, “You asked us to come back if we were smart, right? We are here. What can you do?”
I did not want to attack a man, right then. I thought it would not be so nice. I told the people around, “None of you spoke a word when all this was happening. This guy is now standing right here. Do any of you have anything to do/say?”
Even then, nobody said a word. Then my father came there and asked me, who had abused us. There was a person along with that person. He pushed my father. Once that happened, I did not have to think about anything. Nothing else crossed my mind. I did not have the time to see who was looking at me. I was sure that no one else was going to react. I pulled him down and attacked him in every possible way. By that time, we had got our food. I put the plate down and I attacked him, in every way that I possibly could.
Presenter: Did the others try to help him?
Amrita: My dad and the other person had some tussle. After I started responding, the people around suddenly realized “Aah! That girl is doing something. We must also get involved.” In that sense, the public got involved. But after that, everyone was very active and were with me. But I had to be the silent breaker.
Only one person hurled the abuses. The people sitting in the back of the car did not say anything. This was the driver. His name is Manoj. He works in the Education Department. The others had some tag and one of them tried to push my father.
But the most important thing is that I had to be the silent breaker. That was the situation. No one else came forward. You can’t even call this, an attack. That was my situation. I really can’t label it an attack or that it was because I have been learning Kalari for 12 years.
First of all, when this man was hurling abuses at me, I had just returned from One Billion Rising. I was there, as a representative of women. If I did not respond here, if I did not respond in this situation, there would be no meaning in saying that I am proud to be a girl. I responded because of that!
Presenter: How was the crowd? Did they ask you not to beat him or were they supportive?
Amrita: That was shocking. The entire crowd was supportive. But after the incident, one man came up to me and said, “You should not show so much strength. Women should not respond like this.”
He went to the police and said, “Please don’t beat this man any more. She has beaten him quite a bit. Don’t do anything more to this poor man.”
What does he mean when he says, “this poor man”? I really could not understand.
Two three people came up to me and said, “You should not complain. Let it go, dear. They are Govt. employees. Why do you want to spoil their future?”
I did not attack him because I wanted to demonstrate my identity as “Amrita Mohan” He should not do this anymore. Men need not be afraid of women but they should respect women. That was my aim.
Presenter : How did the Police respond?
Amrita: They responded well and they asked me to report to Museum police station. It was around 11:30pm, and filed the complaint. He was there to make a counter complaint. He wanted to say that this was a tussle for a parking space and this girl was responding unnecessarily.
Presenter: Did he complain that you beat him?
Amrita: Yes. He said this girl beat me up unnecessarily. Yes, I beat him up. I beat him up real bad but I don’t feel guilty at all.
Presenter: Is he in the hospital?
Amrita : With a smile, “ I don’t know but most probably he is.”
Presenter: Did anyone ask you to withdraw your complaint ?
Amrita: No. I was at the One Billion Rising program. Parvati madam and many people called me up and told me, “Many people will ask you to withdraw your comment. You should never do that. You have our full support.”
It’s not that I want him punished or anything like that. But girls are to be respected, and if I can make any contribution to that, I will be very happy.
Presenter: Where are you studying?
Amrita: I am studying in All Saints College, final year BA Communication.
Presenter: Do you still ride a bike?
Amrita : I ride a bike to my college.
Presenter: How is it then? Do people comment at you?
Amrita: There is not a comment that I have not heard in these two years, whenever I ride a bike. Sometimes I hear nice things, but sometimes, its like, “Why do you have to do all this? Is there any need for this?” Sometimes I also comment back in jest, “You see. I got on to the bike and now I don’t know how to get down!” I take these things with that kind of lightness.
Presenter: Do people try to overtake you when you ride the bike?
Amrita: Yes. They try to overtake. They try to jerk suddenly in front of me, make me apply the brake, making me slip. Those things, I can accept. But yesterday, it was different. They thought that they could do anything because there were no men with us. They wanted to act smart.
Presenter : What did your family and friends say? Those who were with you?
Amrita: They are still in shock. They told me later that they could not respond.
Presenter: Why could they not respond? They could have stood by you.
Amrita : Yes, they could have stood by me but they were shocked. Even yesterday, when I was at the rally on my bike, there were a few older men, who were rather encouraging. But sometimes young college girls would see me on a bike and they would giggle and act shy. I feel women from the earlier generation were much bolder. Today, we are developed and advanced in terms of technology, but girls are very shy. They are not acting smart, where they have to. You don’t show your smartness or your attitude in just the way you dress. You should have an identity of who you are in this society.
Presenter: Is it because women don’t feel insulted when they hear these comments?
Amrita: I think, the biggest restriction is the family. Most parents (at least among my friends) advise their daughters not to respond if anything happens. They tell their daughters not to make an issue. It’s not that, my parents tell me to “create” issues. But they tell me, if there does arise a situation, “Face it and come back”. They know that, if they sent me out, I will surely come back. I will face the situation and come back. They know that. All parents should develop that trust.
Presenter: The public around you did not react when the incident happened. Do you think they will respond in the future after this example?
Amrita : I am certain they will respond. My mother was saying something and my friend was also saying something while this was happening. They were saying things but it was not coming out with full energy. Seeing this, if there is a change in at least two people, I would be fully satisfied.
Preethi is currently pursuing her Graduate Studies in Sociology in Purdue University in the US. She believes that her two years at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, where she did her post-graduation have read more...
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Time moves on. However, people do not.