• Actress and dancer Ishita Sharma has set up free martial arts lessons every Saturday and Sunday (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Ishita Sharma felt stronger and more empowered after taking up self-defence, and after a frightening incident on the streets of Mumbai, was inspired to extend her new-found confidence to more and more young women.
Bianca Soldani

6 May 2016 - 9:26 AM  UPDATED 6 May 2016 - 9:26 AM

Every weekend, Mumbai’s Versova beach is filled with the strained sounds of punches and high kicks.

Scores of girls (and even some boys) flock to the waterside to take part in a free kung fu lesson as part of an initiative designed to empower young women.

The brains behind the idea belong to Indian actress and kathak dancer Ishita Sharma, who was inspired to set up the classes after her own positive experience with self-defence.

Although she considers Mumbai as one of India's safer cities, Ishita has always been wary of travelling the streets late at night.

She carries a can of pepper spray and is sure to lock her doors when driving alone, and while these habits haven’t changed since she started taking kung fu lessons, her attitude has.

On the crowdfunding page supporting the classes, the Bollywood star recounts a frightening incident that saw her followed at length by a group of six men on bikes.

Despite slowing and speeding up in an attempt to lose them, she continued to be stalked, with the men peering through her car window and laughing.

“In the next moment, I found myself shouting at them with the window almost rolled down, and in the next second, they were gone,” she says.

“I'm not saying that's the wisest thing to do… but, what I'm saying is this. When THEY know you have courage, they too are scared.

“I think the one thing that we need at this point is COURAGE. To stand up, to make some noise, to tell people to shut up.”

She believes martial arts teaches courage, self-reliance and respect while instilling a true sense of empowerment that she thinks every girl should be able to tap into.

Teaming up with her kung-fu instructor Alex Fernandes, back in Janurary, Ishita set up her free classes and started a crownfunding campaign to keep them running.

Unfortunately they had little success at the start with no one turning up to their first class. But it has steadily increased from there and proved particularly popular with children from the neighbouring slums.