You may recognise Ishita Sharma as the titillating Samara Capore from the 2010 Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Dulha Mil Gaya, but in life, she is much more than just her brief Bollywood stint. She is, in fact, a real-life heroine who is fighting a centuries-old culture of toxic street harassment and victim-blaming in her own special way.
After a harrowing sexual harassment incident left Sharma reeling, she decided to retaliate, instead of retreating into silence. Sharma said in a statement to Mid-day News,
“I was driving in Shastri Nagar, Andheri, at 10.30 pm one night when I spotted a bunch of boys following me on bikes. Slowing down and speeding up, and staring didn’t help. It was finally when I rolled down the window and shouted that they scooted. I learnt that we need courage, to stand up and make some noise.”
With the help of her friend Alex Fernandez, owner of the Life Institute of Tai Chi, Martial Arts and Healing Research Centre in Mumbai, Sharma provides free self-defence classes to young girls from under-privileged families at Versova Beach every weekend. These classes will, Sharma hopes, help equip girls from vulnerable backgrounds with basic self-defence skills.
Unsurprisingly, when the first class was held on January 16th 2016, no-one showed up. However Sharma, undeterred, did not lose hope. She soon enlisted the help of parents and teachers in the area including a Teach for India fellow, which resulted in an overwhelming attendance on February 6th.
Convincing the parents was not an easy task, say Sharma and Fernandez. Their initiative was greeted with utmost suspicion and a few of the girls were pulled out by their parents in the first week.
Sharma, however, is optimistic that her attempts will be successful in fighting the rampant spread of rape culture and street sexual harassment in India. “When they (perpetrators) know you have courage, they too are scared. I think one thing that we need at this point is courage,” said Sharma to TheOdysseyOnline.
To spread awareness of her campaign online, Sharma has coined the hashtag #MukkaMar, with which Sharma and Fernandez post pictures, news and updates on a regular basis. Their campaign has grabbed the attention of several media outlets and feminist activists, who have nothing but praise for their efforts.
Apart from being a total badass, Ishita is also a qualified Kathak dancer, Anchor and Yoga teacher, and owns a performing arts institute in Mumbai called AAMAD.
The self-defence classes take place every Saturday and Sunday from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM at Versova beach, Mumbai.
Images Courtesy: Ishita Sharma