Payal Shah avoided her attacker’s grasping palm with a deft feint to the left. With her right hand she swung his arm away, leaving him momentarily defenceless. Seeing the opening, she kicked hard. Her assailant doubled up.
The watching crowd of about two dozen women — in their 20s, 30s and 40s — broke into spontaneous applause. Her “tormentor” got up and smiled.
The “attacker” was actually an instructor hired by the HSBC India management to teach women employees how to defend themselves and Shah, 30, is a middle management executive at the bank.
Several companies such as HSBC India, Citibank India, Cairn India, Google India and Dabur, among others, are organising such classes for women employees, irrespective of age and seniority, in the wake of the Delhi gang rape and reports of a sharp increase in the number of sexual harassment cases against women.
The classes have a liberal mix of karate, judo and other self-defence moves.
"I have been working for more than two decades but have never felt as scared as I have over the last few months," said Ritu Jhingon, 46, mother of a teenager and part of the senior management team at Cairn India, who underwent a self-defence training programme organised by her company in the last week of April.
"Besides preparing us to physically repulse any attack, these classes are also mentally and psychologically empowering," she added.
According to government data, 5.8 million women are employed in the country's organised sector, comprising 20% of the total workforce. And companies are making a concerted effort to ensure the safety of their women employees.
"At a time when we are talking of getting back to a high growth trajectory, these incidents (attacks on women) are unfortunate and affect India's image. We cannot afford them," Ajay S Shriram, president designate, CII, told HT.
"As an organisation that promotes a diverse workforce, we have taken initiatives to ensure the safety of our women workforce," Sameer Wadhawan, VP, HR & services, Coca-Cola India & South West Asia, added.