Putting up a fight

A group of young mixed martial arts experts, led by Akhil Kapur and Arjun Meghe, have been conducting ‘Maa-Behen’ campaigns in a bid to equip women with the basics of self-defence

If you’re a frequent commuter on the local train, you might have spotted a bunch of youngsters dressed in white t-shirts with the words ‘Maa-Behen’ printed on them. They weren’t trying to be abusive. They were volunteers from the Insaniyat group who took to Dadar and CST stations to empower women by teaching them a thing or two about using mixed martial arts for self-defence on August 11 and 12. While some of their volunteers, bulky world-class fighters, were hard to miss, the catchy name for their campaign helped attract the attention of passersby, too. 

Arjun Meghe and Akhil Kapur teach self defence to women at CST station

“We asked many women commuters whether they’d experienced anything that made them uncomfortable — a violation of their privacy, verbal or physical assault. Out of the 250 women we spoke to, close to 50 have had such experiences recently. They were extremely keen on learning a few basic steps to defend themselves,” says Akhil Kapur. The actor, poised for his Bollywood debut next month, has been involved in the mixed martial arts for years.

Kapur helped set up Insaniyat at friend and fellow fighter Arjun Meghe’s initiative.

During the Maa-Behen sessions, the girls were made to practice on one of their group’s bulkiest fighters — Shiva Malani. “That gave them a sense of confidence, I think,” opines Kapur. “We were pleasantly surprised by the response we got, not just from young college girls, but also from older working women and grandparents. They were even willing to miss their train and join in. One of them sent their granddaughter to come forward and learn some moves,” adds Meghe.

“We wanted to point out that you don’t have to engage with the attacker. Just save yourself. You can do things if someone grabs you. Even a set of keys can be used as a weapon,” explains Kapur.

The Maa-Behen campaign is the group’s first, but certainly not the last campaign. “We began with women’s equality because we’ve found so many instances when women have been treated badly, but they don’t want to stand up for themselves because they’re too afraid. We want to change that,” offers Meghe, who also wants to work for animal and gay rights in the future.

For the moment though, the boys and girls at Insaniyat are busy extending the campaign to schools and colleges across India. “We’ve been getting many calls from college girls asking us to organise sessions at colleges,” smiles Kapur.

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