The women of Kerla, along the southwestern coast of the country, are being supplied pepper spray as a test of its effectiveness by the Hindu nationalist and social activists organization, Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The Durga Vahini, a women’s wing of VHP, gives canned sprays to its 23 district ‘samyojikas’ (women coordinators), who will train other women in using it for self-defense.
The initial phase is limited according to Ms. Bindu, the State coordinator of the organization. They want to ensure that there is no misuse of the pepper spray and program before they roll it out in larger numbers.
The samyojikas are between 18 and 20 and include college students. The coordinators are tasked with training other women in the use of the pepper spray.
“The distribution of the self-defense sprays will be widened as Hindu women and mothers are coming under increased attack in the State. More women will have to be trained in using the gadget,” Ms. Bindu said. At the moment the distribution of the pepper spray is limited to only Hindu women. Indian society is comprised of many different religious and ethnic groups but the organization believes there will be no significant negative fallout over the program.
The VHP website says it is for “kindling a sense of security, sanskar, and dynamism and also to solve various problems facing women that the VHP founded the independent organization of Hindu Yuwatis in the name of Durga Vahini” on Durga Ashtami.”
Self-defense for women is of particular importance in India. According to Sally Kohn of the Washington Post, “Rape and violence against women are a massive problem in India. According to the country’s National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen. Nearly one in three rape victims in India is under the age of 18. One in 10 are under 14. Every 20 minutes in India, a woman is raped.”
The distribution of pepper spray to the women in this region will not solve all of India’s problem with sexual and other assault. But it is a start. India’s lack of a sufficient number of police on the streets, and a culture that is predisposed to not counting women as valuable parts of society combine to make them uniquely vulnerable. Taking the means to protect oneself in hand is always a good idea in those circumstances.