India’s Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, has strongly condemned the gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student, which sparked protests cross the nation state. Kumar also suggested that India needed to set up “fast-track courts” to try cases of rape.
In a more controversial statement, the Chief Minister called on girls to learn martial arts so that they will be able to protect themselves in the event of an attack. ”Girls should learn all forms of martial arts such as judo, karate and taekwondo to acquire physical strength, quick reflexes and alertness for selfdefence,” Kumar said at the inauguration of the 31st Senior National Taekwondo Championships at the Pataliputra Sports Complex here on Tuesday.
It’s easy to criticize Kumar, but the police have been sharply criticized by human rights groups and opposition BJP for their handling of cases of sexual violence against women, and for attacking recent anti-rape protestors with water canons, tear gas, and batons.
Rape in India is a growing problem, according to a a report by India’s National Crime Records Bureau. According to the NCRB, 24,206 cases of rape in India were reported in 2011 (the last year for which figures were available), an increase of 9.2% over the year 2010. There was also a slight increase in 2009.
Nevertheless, rape made up only 10.6 percent of crimes against women in 2011. By far the largest category was cruelty to women by their husbands or family (43.4%). Molestation accounted for 18.8%, and kidnapping and abduction made up 15.6% of crimes against women.
Nearly 30% of victims of rape were under 18-years-old, with those under 14-years-old accounting for 10.6 of rape victims in 2011.
Women in cities began turning to martial arts some years ago, to protect themselves on their commutes. The recent gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student is likely to inspire others to take up self-defense. Alternet.com reported Dr. Komal V.S., Deputy Director of the Unarmed Commando Combat Academy (UCCA) in Mumbai, in 2009, as saying, “molestation and rape are rampant on local trains and buses – which is why a lot of women who return late at night are coming to us to learn self-defense.”
Bollywood actor and martial artist Akshay Kumar has come out in support of the Chief Minister’s comments. Akshay is a black belt in Taekwando, who has studied other martial arts including Muay Thai. He had already tried to get schools in India to teach self-defense to girls as part of the curriculum, and now says he will personally teach his own daughter martial arts once she is old enough to begin learning.