If you are strolling around the beaches near Versova on a weekend, chances are you will pass by a group of girls practising martial arts. The initiative, which is called MukkaMaar, was started by Ishita Sharma, an actor and dancer, whose personal experience set her on a noble cause — to teach the girls from the nearby slum martial arts — for free.
“I have been harassed by men on the road multiple times, and once it so happened that a group of guys tried to intimidate me while I was driving. Though I often trace back to this incident as the cause to start the initiative, the real impetus came from a documentary that deeply perturbed me. It was titled Daughters of Mother India,” says Ishita.
Ishita, who had founded Aamad, an educational organisation for performing arts and welfare in 2014, spoke to her martial art instructor and set out for the project. “Initially, a lot of my friends and acquaintances promised to send their maids and children for the classes,” she recalls. So a date was decided and the word was spread. “On January 16, we reached the beach and not a single person had come. They either said they were unwell or were caught up with something.”
But within a month, things were looking up and Ishita managed to convince enough girls to come for the class.
“The biggest challenge is to convince the parents. They would ask me to teach them some Bollywood dance instead. But I insisted on the necessity of learning martial arts. Even the girls thought that they were good enough to dance, sing and probably get beaten,” Ishita says.
As much as she would like to teach the boys too, Ishita has restricted the class to the girls for now — with some very few exceptions.
“The whole idea was to make the girls feel special. If the classes had equal number of boys, then the girls would get dissuaded. So we had to push the boys behind. Even now there’s a group of boys who come for the classes regularly, but we don’t take their attendance.”
Although the classes are free for the children, Ishita jokes about it serving her personal interest — in a way, she is working towards her own security. “I have my selfish reasons involved as well. If I empower these girls, they will be able to stand up for themselves and face any kind of social nuisance head-on. It will be a safer society to live in. Hence, it will be safer for me to move around, without having to worry about unpleasant experiences,” she points out.
The Dil Dosti Etc actor, had started her career at the age of 13 and today at 28, she has waded her way through the film industry and worked in the psychiatric department of a hospital.
Currently, Ishita is trying to raise funds for the campaign. “Currently we have done this from out own pocket, but I don’t want to make it a short term course. I want the students, many of whom are diligent, to complete at least Level One, which takes more than a year. Also I would like to give them a certificate, which would help them become an a martial art instructor, which enhances their career opportunities as well.”
In the longer run, she wants to open a centre in Delhi as well because, “As we all know, it is Northern India which needs these kind of training the most,” she says.