Founder's note- The birth of MukkaMaar
The idea of MukkaMaar was born in February 2016, with a free self-defence class for just 5 girls from a slum area next to a beach in Mumbai. After the initiative received extensive media coverage and changed the lives of close to 400 girls; MukkaMaar came into existence as a public trust in June 2018.
“This is Ishita Sharma. I’m an actor, dancer, and entrepreneur. My stint running a studio for performing arts in Mumbai, gave me an opportunity to get introduced to various performing arts. There, I also started learning mixed martial arts, kalarippayattu & Kung-fu, and saw myself get stronger, fitter and much more confident. Moreover, before I realised, I was less afraid; less afraid of eve-teasing, of travelling alone at night (which was unavoidable for me), less afraid of speaking my mind, of making a noise when need is… the list is endless.
On a fateful night in 2016, I happened to watch a disturbing documentary about one of the many rape cases in India. It was the gruesome case of 5-year old Gudiya. This was post Nirbhaya, and just as heinous. It left me sleepless and restless, pained and helpless, and very, very angry. I’d been a feminist for a long time; fighting sexism from family and neighbours, but this time it was different. I began thinking about how the issue is as much personal as it is a collective reflection of we are, and I’ve only been a very small part. I felt the need to focus on the collective, to resolve the personal. I reflected on my personal transformation and the realisation struck me that I am suddenly empowered to share what I felt with the rest, who have held back and let themselves be told that they are not. Especially with girls of the future generation.
Thus began the journey of MukkaMaar. I along with my kung-fu sir, Mr Alex, decided to just start teaching self-defence to as many school-going girls as possible. But we didn’t want to do a 1-day/ 1-week camp, we wanted to be very sure that girls who learn with us will be given the level of training where they remember and are able to use it, for a lifetime. The very next weekend, we started a self-defence class on Versova beach, in Mumbai. We started with 5 girls (age 5-15) and within a few months, the number grew to 10, 20, 40, 80, 100… This was in Feb 2016.
By 2017, the girls on the beach decided to enter into competitions. To our utter surprise, everyone who participated won! We couldn’t even believe what was happening. It wasn’t as much about the competitions, as it was about the mindset. When I took the girls there, they didn’t have uniforms, I gave them my shorts, but they thought they were too short, so they cut up their brothers’ pants and wore them. They had no experience with gloves or mouth guards. But just a year of training gave them this unshakeable confidence! That they could do anything. And they did.
The girls told me ‘didi baaki girls kyun nahi sikhti, MukkaMaar ki team ko bada karo na.’ (Why don’t other girls learn this, make the MukkaMaar team bigger). It was only after we observed the girls, did we realise that we were not teaching them self-defence, as we had known it. It was much more, wider, deeper, and hitting the nail where needed. On mindset and behaviour change. To disrupt and deter threats, before it turns into violence. To use the shield of safety to make decisions without the fear of “kuch ho jayega” and “log kya kehenge”. To turn “I’m not allowed”, “how can I” into “these are my fundamental rights and I know how to get them”.
You don’t need to be a fighter to have the fight in you.”
So, in 2017, we tweaked and evolved the project into a program and brought it to a Municipal school, teaching 300 girls in 6th, 7th, and 8th standards. The MukkaMaar period became like a compulsory activity for girls; to be done twice a week during school hours.
With the new changes, we could envision MukkaMaar spreading across the whole nation. I was excited to see how the world around me would change if that were to happen! Imagine, if every girl was safe. If every girl was strong. If we all supported each other. If schools taught this like they teach Math. If girls aspired to do push-ups and punching. If we were never scared. If one could walk on the road without covering our breasts. If we don’t freeze the next time we are touched. If our reflex is to defend, not be numb. If we can stand up not just for ourselves, but accompany our brothers and friends and protect them. What if women suddenly became stronger than the opposite sex and believed it too?
The visual was too grand to say no. And so, in June 2018, MukkaMaar was finally registered as a non-profit organisation, after unlearning, learning, re-learning and growing in close proximity to the community, for more than 24 months.
The news of the registration coming through, came along with a tie-up with MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) to bring MukkaMaar to all girls in 6th, 7th and 8th across their 1100+ schools.
But our work has only just begun. We have not even scratched the surface.
There are ~25 million 11 to 14-year-old girls in India, who do not have the skills to defend themselves. We hope to reach all of them, in this lifetime.
If you have ever envisioned a world that I have, it’s time to say hello, and join the cause. Use a hashtag, post a picture, share this page, write to us, speak to your boss, donate, volunteer, speak to girls, give a lecture, speak to a government, plan an event, or just write some encouraging words to us; anything helps. The journey will be tough, but thoroughly enjoyable, I assure you!”