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

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs