"It was very hard for her to get herself groomed mentally and physically as a karate girl."
Sunlight barely enters a small room of Korail slum, one of the biggest slum in Dhaka. The floor of the 15 by 10 feet tin-shed room is lower than the road towards one of the entrances of the slum.
The walls are adorned with multi-hued and multi-designed posters with awareness raising messages. The blackboard adjacent to the entryway still has the lessons from the last class unwiped. Some science fiction books are kept in one corner of the floor in an organized way.
And in an open space in the middle of the room, a girl of about 19-year-old, dressed up in white karate gi (traditional uniform for karate practice and competition) was instructing four girls:
"If anyone attacks you, remain calm, think for a second and then strike considering the attacker's position."
The name of the instructor is Sharmin Sarkar, a slum dweller, who in her eighth grade had learned about Brac's Kishori Club (Adolescent Club) under Adolescent Development Programme (ADP).
Sharmin joined the club in Korail through a circular for recruiting women leaders aged between 10 to 19.
As she belongs to a destitute family having four brothers and two sisters, earning a living was her major concern.
"I was only thinking about getting paid at that time. But after being recruited and undergoing a five-day training, I discovered a different self. I learned different activities such as reading, socialising, playing games, taking part in cultural activities, open discussions and most importantly learning self-defense," explained Sharmin.
Sharmin is now the proud karate instructor, who is teaching some basic methods of self-defense to the 35 adolescent members of the club. She is also playing the role of leader in other extra-curricular activities of the club.
When sexual harassment has taken a serious form in our roads, this group of young people, especially the girls from the underprivileged community, is trying to ensure themselves of safety. This act deserves appreciation and needs to be encouraged.
Sharmin's journey in the beginning was not a smooth one as she comes from a lower-income group having conservative views. It was very hard for her to get herself groomed mentally and physically as a karate girl.
"I was not confident enough as self-defense is mainly to defend ourselves from the offender mainly boys or men. But when my seniors told me the importance of it, I could realise that we, the girls, must not be afraid and to fight against the evil-doers," said Sharmin.
There are 35 members -- 30 girls and five boys -- in the club. The girls are getting interested more in learning self-defense since the inception of the club in February.
According to this young enthusiast, "If a girl knows at least the basic methods to protect herself when she is attacked, the possible danger can be avoided. The girls of the club are becoming confident in facing any type of situation. Even the women working in garments also express their interest to learn self-defense to us.
Sharmin takes her karate class once a week. Her instruction includes some basic striking techniques when attacked physically from the front side or behind.
She demonstrates her students how to strike if someone grabs her hand or if one presses her throat or hold from behind with the help of other practitioners.
In a situation like this, they are told to remain calm and to calculate the time and position. A strong punch on the chest, a strong kick, or a lift holding the legs is enough to weaken the position and intention of the attacker.
"As girls, we are taught not to speak loudly. But our loud scream with every move is also important to startle the attacker and express our confidence," Sharmin said confidently.
Shantona Akhtar, an eighth grader, is also a member of the Kishori Club.
"At first my family was against my learning of self-defense despite my interest. One day while returning from school, some boys teased me. I protested loudly against that and escaped the danger luckily. After that, I got determined to learn self-defense and my family also agreed," said strong and confident Shantona.
Ruma Akhter, another student of the club and a 19-year-old married girl, said, "I was a victim of child marriage at the age of 14. Kishori Club also works to stop child marriage. I think every girl should learn self-defense."
The leader of them all, Sharmin, now dreams to be trained more in martial art.
In her words, "If we are taught more, we will be more confident. Besides, this practice should not be limited to protecting ourselves only. If we are trained up with more advanced techniques, we may also help others in such situation."
Talking about the obstacles, Sharmin said, "Some elderly persons of the locality do not like girls learning martial art. I understand their viewpoint as they are from completely a different generation."
"But to stop being victim of all sorts of harassment, there is no other option left for women other than learning self-defense and becoming self-sufficient."
Sharmin also excels in playing football, acting and some other extracurricular activities in the club.