India’s Power Girls

These rape survivors are fighting to end sexual violence against women

An all-women group patrols the streets of the northern Indian city of Lucknow to protect their peers from sexual harassment. If a girl or woman reports she has been assaulted in any way, the group confronts the perpetrator and sometimes even resorts to physical intimidation.

Most of the recruits are rape survivors. The group formed out of frustration with a political system that has failed to address the country’s rape epidemic. Sexual assaults often go unreported, and the victims are left to suffer the trauma in silent shame.

Afreen Khan helped start the Red Brigade after her father told her to quit school to avoid sexual violence. Initially, many dismissed the group as a gang of slum women. The brigade evolved out of a landscape of poverty, discrimination and chauvinism.

Galvanized by the 2012 Delhi gang rape, Khan and the rest of the group have been training in martial arts so that men do not have a physical advantage over them.

“When someone harasses you, then this is what you can do to break his jaw,” Afreen says while jabbing a boxing pad with her elbow.

But the brigade isn’t only about martial arts training — the women provide various kinds of support for their peers who have been harassed, including advice on sexuality, health and education.

“Whenever there is a case of sexual abuse, we take charge of it,” says Afreen. “We go meet the victim and help her overcome the trauma. We handle the case legally, and if she happens to be a teenager, we often help with her education.”