News / Asia

India’s Red Brigade Hits Back at Attackers of Women

Aru Pande
In a dusty neighborhood in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, Usha Vishwakarma readies her army of young women for battle.

Standing on her doorstep, she leads the teenagers in martial art drills. The 25-year-old said while she and other women cannot change the mindset of potential attackers, they can work to protect themselves.

“We need to think that we should become so capable that if someone tries to attack us, then we respond in equal measure,” said Vishwakarma. “We want to make girls so mentally and physically strong that they can face any situation.”

Vishwakarma said her Red Brigade was born out of necessity in 2010 when she felt abandoned and traumatized after an attempted rape by a colleague.

She said police were unresponsive, and the man who tried to rape her spent the following months mocking her for reporting the attack. She said the incident, coupled with the rape of an 11-year-old girl she tutored, was the breaking point.

Group colors

Her group of what has grown now to 200 young women, many victims themselves, patrol the streets of Lucknow in the traditional “salwar kameez” - red symbolizing danger, black for protest - ready to confront and humiliate men who tease, touch and commit other acts of sexual harassment and assault.

Afreen Khan, 17, said she helped start the Red Brigade after her father threatened to take her out of school because of the near daily harassment she experienced while heading to class.

“Before we used to hear so many lewd comments, now there is hardly any teasing,” Khan said. “There are a lot of people with us, supporting us and that makes us feel more proud that we are doing this type of work.”

The Red Brigade’s work took on special resonance after a 23-year-old student was gang-raped and beaten aboard a private bus in New Delhi in December of 2012. She died weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

Thousands took to the streets all over India to protest the brutal attack, but a year later - not much seems to have changed.

Attacks escalating

The number of reported rapes in the Indian capital this year has nearly doubled compared to last year.

Vishwakarma said attacks outside the capital rarely make headlines or stir such public outrage. She said that life, particularly in the conservative state of Uttar Pradesh, can be bleak for a woman who is discouraged from speaking up or standing up for herself, whether it be by her parents or her husband.

“A woman is not considered a human being, but something that is to be used,” she said.

It has not been an easy road for Vishwakarma and her Red Brigade. At first, she said even her family was opposed to her efforts for fear of what neighbors would say about the young women stepping out of their homes and raising their voices.

Even on this day, the Red Brigade members were cautious as not to conduct their martial art drills in public view.

Still, Vishwakarma has not been deterred by societal norms. She is steadfast in ensuring girls and women gain the confidence they need to protect themselves. The Red Brigade has drawn worldwide media attention and her mother who was once apprehensive says she is proud of Vishwakarma and her three other daughters.

“I want the girls to get ahead, do good work. I want them to have a different life than what I had,” said Singhari Devi as she watched her daughters don their red-and-black uniform.

Vishwakarma also has high hopes of seeing a Red Brigade in each Indian city in the next year.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs