Here are some pics from classes at Sarai Kale Khan:


Girls getting ready at our first SKK class.  Note the hats and jackets.  It was about 35 F outside and no heat inside. (GTP, 2013)



Teaching how to make a fist. (GTP, 2013)



Always a good thing to have them hit something.  Sajji and my stomachs were sooooo bruised; but, all worth it!  These girls can hit! (GTP, 2013)




Sajji showing them how its done:  girls learn to make a fist; learn how to do throat strikes. (GTP 2013)



Belle teaching throat strike. (GTP 2013)

Life at Sarai Kale Khan

GTP trained 110ish women and girls at Sarai Kale Khan.  I say ‘ish’ because after the first day of class, word got out to the community about what was being done and girls just started showing up.  So while the original schedule called for four one-hour long classes each accommodating 25 girls, 25 turned to 30 some days.  Thank god for Sajji; this training load really would not have been possible without her.  And while the 30ish maxed out time, drill capabilities and pushed the limits of the classroom-cum-training facilities, it just about killed me to turn anyone away.  Let me explain a few things more about Sarai Kale Khan.

Things happen at Sarai Kale Khan that can’t even begin to be fathomed by a mind raised in polite society.  Imagine you are a 10 year old girl living here.  Your ‘house’ is a 10 x 10 room where all the cooking, sleeping, studying, day-to-day living goes on for you, your mother, your father, and your siblings.  If you are lucky, your house has a solid wood door instead of a curtain, but even that door might not have a lock.  Each day, you must run a gauntlet to do anything.  To go to the bathroom, since there is no plumbing in your ‘house,’ you must walk down narrow corridors and risk being grabbed by drunken neighbor men or an opportunistic landlord.  If you are going to school, you will need to trust that the rickshaw driver will not drive to some remote area and attack you.  At school, beware teachers who want you to stay after class.  If you are at home, waiting for your parents to return from work, you hope your brother’s friends or a neighbor don’t barge through the unlocked door to find you alone.  And you pray that your father does not come home drunk to give you that ‘look.’   In a community where police are nonexistent and men look on females as cattle, life for a girl here is filled with depravity on a scale beyond what many of us in the West can imagine.  Self defense here is not a recreational luxury.

I can tell several women who participate in classes here have survived an attack.  They stand with their arms crossed, their gaze drifting in and out of the present, an expression of ‘oh-my-god’ flitting across their features when a drill I am asking them to do hits too close to home.  I make sure that they are not alone.  I position myself next to them, I might hold their hand, I say, “Koshish karna (try).”  They have no idea that I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to them, willing myself to stay with the task at hand, to not go running into those lanes and warrens beating up every single man I see.



Under the cool rays of a sun struggling to warm an unseasonably cold Delhi, a four hundred year old settlement sprawls.  Sarai Kale Khan hugs the ring road and yawns eastward in lawless warrens of three and four story tenement buildings carved with rutted roads and lanes choked with foot and motor traffic.  It is home to two million people, a far cry from its roots as a caravan stopover.   Some of its lanes, like the one we are on now, are barely wide enough for a car, let alone the truck chugging ahead of us.  Indeed, the truck stops, blocking all traffic, and Sajji and I are unceremoniously informed our ride is over, we must get out of the rickshaw.


For a few minutes, we are stranded on the ribbon of dirty pavement lined in ubiquitous ramshackle storefronts and homes in the day’s dim light.  While we wait for our Save the Children India (SCI) contact to locate us, I am uneasy and on edge.  There are a lot of hardscrabble men occupying the street.  Several of them are generally loitering, others are going about their business.  I’ve been in similar circumstances before, back when I visited Bihar in 2010 and 2012, but this feels different.  Whereas in Bihar there was a look of curiosity and inquisitiveness in their eyes, the men’s gazes here hold something different.  Maybe an undertone of malevolence?  I can’t place it, but instead of rationalizing it away, I remain vigilant, scanning the landscape for makeshift weapons and escapes…and praying that SCI find us soon.  My prayers are answered and before long we are found by Jennifer, a cheerful SCI associate whose presence immediately dispels the ominous undertone I’ve been feeling.  Sajji and I have been just a few doors away from SCI’s center, and my relief is palpable as we enter its facilities.  We are ushered through a set of double metal doors and I find we are in a tiny courtyard hub from which hodgepodge spokes of rooms dart in all directions.  I am getting a Hansel-and-Gretel popcorn trail feeling, but realize popcorn won’t cut it as young girls, teachers, and various staff dart this way and that down the halls.  This place is alive.

We meet the director first.  Standing about six foot tall and clothed in western style office casual, Neelam Matai is a commanding figure as she rises to great us, her voice like velvet as perfect English is spoken.  Over a cup of heavenly chai (Indian tea), Neelam relates her journey to Delhi, to Sarai Kale Khan, to this place.  Her story is extraordinary.  While working with an anti-trafficking organization in Mumbai, Neelam becomes aware of a father who is abusing and trafficking his seven daughters.  This wretch of a man has even named his daughters like post dated checks.  Neelam rescues the daughters.  While waiting for a train one day, she is approached by a man and the next thing she knows, she is waking up to a crowd huddled over her.  The man punched her in the face so hard, she was knocked out cold and had to have three operations to fix her broken nose.  Unsurprisingly, the man turned out to be the abusive father.  Neelam pressed charges, and the guy’s current address is prison.

After this incident, Neelam married and moved to Delhi.  Wanting to continue her anti-trafficking work, she became aware of Sarai Kale Khan as a high risk area.  She began to make visits and inquiries, and realized no organization was serving this migrant community.  Having worked for SCI in Mumbai, Neelam hatched the idea to organize an SCI office in Delhi.  That was seven years, and several hundred women and girls helped, ago.  To speak to Neelam today, she has as much passion and resolve and energy to help as she has ever had.  Her unflagging will and desire and caring for the Sarai Kale Khan women and community is inspiring and humbling.  I want to be Neelam when I grow up.



GTP’s First Remote Trainer: Nilofar Khan



(Belle giving Nilofar a piggyback, 2013)

We have been blessed to have trained our very first remote trainer at Save Our Sisters, Nilofar (pronounce: nee-LO-fer) Khan.  Nilofar has worked at Save Our Sisters since 2002 and is a trained social worker.  She was in the first-ever class we did at SOS in April 2012, and she gave it her all every class.  If you were to see her on the street, Nilofar would stand out:  her short stature, perky features, sunny smile and curly hair pulled into a high ponytail make her look like a pixie – a real kick butt pixie!  This mother of grown sons packs quite a punch just with her eyes.  Forget daggers.  When she is talking about injustice and assaults against women, her whole being transforms and she shoots spears from her eyes.  She is a wonderful role model for the girls.  Even while training in self defense for herself, she was also learning beauty and hair skills to assist them in that training, as well.  So, please join me in congratulating Nilofar in her new role as Save Our Sisters Self Defense Teacher!

Last Class

We had our last classes at Save Our Sisters and at the government home on January 4th.  We started at Save Our Sisters, and took a rickshaw to the Kurla train station as we have done in the past.  Departing the rickshaw, we are thrown into chaos of human bodies, buses, motorbikes, other rickshaws.  A mass flows towards the station, and Sajji and I are carried with it.  We then climb the stairs of the the walkover bridge dodging beggars, vendors, and dogs as we scurry to the other side.  Overwhelmingly, men comprise the fluid, moving body of humanity in this area.  It is intimidating for a woman like me; it makes my head ache to think the girls I train face this gauntlet daily.  At the same time, I am even more motivated than before to reach out and train as many girls and women as I can.

The last class at Save Our Sisters begins with a technique we have not tackled yet:  piggyback rides!  Let me just say, this concept is totally foreign to the girls.  When first shown what they would be doing, panic and horror seized their faces.  Many heads started to shake ‘nayhee’ (hindi for ‘no’).  But then, all of sudden, Preety* jumps on the back of Mumtaz and off they go!  I grab another girl, and we head down the floor, squeals and peals of laughter filling the conference room.  Devashri, the SOS program manager, comes into a room of laughing, howling chaos, and soon adds her laughter, as well.  Their happiness fills me with gratitude, and I cannot think of another place I would rather be.

After the fun, we review the techniques: hammerfist, palm strike, throat strike, knee strike, various escapes.  The girls perform wonderfully.  It is bittersweet – with every strike we are coming every closer to the end, to the time when hands will be shaken, hugs will be given, final good byes said, going our separate ways into uncertain futures.  We will share, however, these wonderful memories more precious than gold.  Farewell, dear girls.  May you speed to the fulfillment of all your dreams.

* All names have been changed at the request of the organization.

Government Home Class

There have been five classes in all for the young women at the government protective home, each successively with fewer girls in attendance.  Being teenagers, they exhibit the universal traits of being a teenager anywhere.  They want to be special, to get attention, to be of individual significance, to be entertained, to show off, to be with their friends, to be rebellious.  As a class begins, several young women who are either pregnant or not feeling well* crowd the sides of the dingy room and are like mermaids to my students.  One by one, girls defect from the drill lines to sit with compatriots on the side, or have a lie down.  Sometimes, a defector or a mermaid will re/join the class randomly when there is something they find fun being done.  They disappear just as quickly back to the sidelines as soon as they feel bored or feel they are not being paid attention to.  With the language barrier, exercising order and discipline is a dance with alienation and estrangement.  It is emotionally exhausting.

That said, there is a core group of roughly 12 girls who appear to look forward to each class, and who can’t wait to do all the drills and exercises.  Since using their real names or showing their pictures is forbidden, I will call them The Dirty Dozen, or the DD for short.  Every time Sajji and I come to class, the DD inspires me.  They are gifted with natural athletic abilities, quick minds, and a large capacity for work.  It is my great fortune that I have made their acquaintance, that I learn from them possibly as much as they learn from me.

* ‘Not feeling well’ is a term often used for a girl who is having her period.  In this part of the world, a girl who is going through her period is not expected to participate in physical exercise, or even go to school.  And not having access to pain relief (due to protocols or expense), I’m not sure I can blame the girls from not wanting to be active or at school.  But this practice has obvious consequences, as pointed out by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn in their book ‘Half the Sky.’  Consider a girl who is excused one week of class per month per year.  In 46 weeks of school, the girl misses an additional 11 weeks of academic learning.  This is often enough to cause them to eventually drop out.  And this is routine and accepted in many developing countries.  Oh, my kingdom for an ibuprofen…

Off to class.


Extraordinary Time

Several times, while in the apartment, I have discerned a raucous sound teasing itself from the ordinary street noises.  It rises in volume and takes shape: a chant.  The four-part cadence gradually blocks out the ubiquitous rickshaw, bus, and motorcycle engine whinings, putt-puttings and clunkings.  Now in front of the apartment building, protester voices demand: “We want justice!!!!”

The gang rape of December 16th, and the subsequent death of the brave young woman who briefly survived such heineousness, have thrust the country into outrage, frustration, and fear.  It is an extraordinary time of promises and blame, of demands for change and fear of status quo.  As politicians jockey to optimize this rare moment to their gain, the women of India quake.  And GTP has seen an astronomical increase in interest in our work.  How to feel about this?  How to think about this?  My personal thought is that I want to be put out of the self defense business.