Ruzan Khambhatta: Empowering Women To Deal With Harassment And Violence

“You don’t need to be aggressive. You can convey through your body language that you can’t be messed with,” says Ruzan Khambatta, daughter of the late Areez Khambatta, founder of the Rasna Group.

The Ahmedabad-based entrepreneur and social activist started a non-profit organisation called Wajra O’ Force Empowerment Foundation in 2015. Incidentally, ‘Wajra’ is based on ‘Vajra’, which, in this context, means a hard and indestructible weapon. The primary objective of the organisation is to work towards liberating India from crimes against women and to ensure the safety and security of women.

A woman is a ‘powerhouse’ – one having great drive, energy and ability and is a source of influence and inspiration – believes Ruzan. And, it is on this belief that her organisation functions.

Novel Initiative For Women In Distress 

Her efforts on the women’s empowerment front started with the Nirbhaya incident in December 2012. That horror and tragedy got the zealous techie thinking of how such incidents could be prevented by using technology. The result was a technology-based solution that enabled women in distress to seek and get help by one phone call to the police.

Named PoliceHEART 1091 (HEART stands for Help Emergency Alert Rescue Terminal), the successful initiative functioned for five years. It was launched by Ruzan in collaboration with the Gujarat police and home department.

“It helped rescue over 6,000 women who would have become victims of eve-teasing, molestation, rape, abduction or domestic violence. The beauty and simplicity of the technology was that you did not need a smartphone or GPS for it to work. A woman in distress could call 1091 and this would activate a system where her family and friends would be alerted and the police would arrive at her location at the earliest. We conducted workshops and seminar to raise awareness about PoliceHEART,” she explains.

Learning Self-Defence Through Dance

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In the self-defence realm, Ruzan launched a unique initiative called Defence O’ Dance that continues today. The idea is to demonstrate that learning basic self-defence is as simple as learning dance. Ruzan researched the subject of self-defence, and brainstormed with those in the field, to develop simple techniques to outmanoeuvre a perpetrator. The objective of the techniques was to nip violence in the bud and enable the girl or woman to free herself and run away.

“At one event, 25,000 girls gathered in a stadium to learn this technique. We go to schools and colleges to demonstrate the techniques. It’s usually a one-hour programme. We teach the girls a ‘mental drill’ where verbal and non-verbal skills are used to psychologically overpower the perpetrator,” explains the 52-year-old.

She believes that body language can help a great deal in this regard. Making eye contact, using a strong voice, walking confidently and what you say can make a world of difference in a threatening situation. In addition, she advises women to carry a perfume spray and a safety pin with them.

According to Ruzan, learning rifle shooting too can empower women. She has written on her website: “Time after time we witness a transformation in a woman when she begins shooting. The empowerment a woman feels at the range translates into so many areas of her life. I’d love to witness women become better shooters and pursue shooting as sport, as well as feel more empowered, and inspire their families and communities.” (Remember the Bollywood film ‘Saand Ki Aankh’?)

Recently, the Wajra O’ Force Empowerment Foundation conducted a demonstration of a variety of techniques for self-defence to an audience of 800-plus girls. They techniques included boxing, rifle shooting, stick fighting, karate and sword fighting.

Ruzan is also called to schools and colleges where she conducts role plays to discuss the grave issue of domestic violence. “If you stop the first act of physical violence, however small, you will never be a victim,” she tells the students.

Strict Upbringing Inculcated Resilience   

Born into a close-knit, well-to-do family, Ruzan’s parents ensured that she and her two siblings stayed grounded and understood the value of money. “My father believed that the wealth we had was not something we owned but kept in trust with us.  And, that we should give back to society since we had received so much from it. Our upbringing also helped us make something of ourselves and have the resilience to face failure,” she narrates.

In college, she was a volleyball and badminton champion, involved in theatre, and a keen debator. Having inherited her father’s creativity and sprit for innovation and entrepreneurship, Ruzan chose to strike out on her own instead of joining the family business. She refused to take money from her parents and started in the IT field with almost zero capital, she says.

“I wanted to stand on my own feet and craft my own identity. I started a ‘nano dhandho’ (small business), a Gujarati term for a startup,” she says with an infectious smile.

Ruzan says her parents have been her biggest inspiration and have motivated her to do what she does today. She divides her time between her business and the cause of women’s empowerment.

Mass awareness campaigns

The Wajra O’ Force Empowerment Foundation has conducted several activities in the slum areas to provide livelihoods, spread nutrition and health awareness, ensure women receive government entitlements, and curb domestic violence through counselling. They have organised ‘Halla Bol’ campaigns in which over 14,000 people have participated to create mass awareness on women’s safety and security.

Ruzan is an external member of the complaints committee at some educational institutes and corporates that addresses complaints of sexual harassment. Having received several awards for her initiatives, she is also a sought-after speaker and a mentor for entrepreneurs.

Ruzan plans to get her foundation listed on the Social Stock Exchange. Other than this, she is planning a ‘Bystander Intervention’ initiative – where a boy/man is motivated to intervene when a girl/woman is being harassed.

“We want to focus more on men. We tell women to love themselves and mothers to treat their son and daughter equally. We want to get men to shed their patriarchal mindset. We want our boys to respect girls. We want to sensitise men to deal with empowered women.”

At the same time, Ruzan would like to tell women: “No Superman will come to save you. It is you and only you who can save yourself. Self-help is the best help.”







About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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