Ishita Sharma

Ishita Sharma: #DefendNotDepend

Stories Women

“The need is to focus on addressing the deeply entrenched mindsets that cause women to be treated unfairly.”

Ishita Sharma (Founder &
Managing Trustee, MukkaMaar)

“Fight for yourself. You don’t need anyone else to protect yourself. Only YOU can protect yourself,” preaches Ishita Sharma every day while training hundreds of girls. Ishita runs MukkaMaar, a Mumbai-based NGO that trains girls of 6th, 7th and 8th standard in different forms of martial art, self-defence techniques, and mental strength exercises. through a 3-year, bi-weekly free training program. 

In 2022, nearly 31,000 complaints of crimes committed against women were received by the National Commission for Women (NCW), the highest since 2016. These heart-wrenching numbers clearly question the safety and security measures of India. So, what’s the solution? Is relying on authorities to make stringent laws would help? Is pinning hopes on the current security system would help? Although, a number of initiatives have been launched by the government, bringing an overall change seems like a prolonged process.

Self-defence is the ultimate protector. For many, learning self-defence stays at the bottom of the list but having the ability to physically stand up for yourself is quite important. Self-defence makes women more empowered, resilient, and powerful. “MukkaMaar works on the premise that each girl has a unique strength to fight and navigate conflicting situations that may arise throughout her life,” says Ishita.

What Made Ishita Incept MukkaMaar?

Ishita Sharma is a feminist, an actor, and a martial artist. She is known for her appearance in the drama series Shaka Laka Boom Boom and movies like ‘Loins of Punjab Presents.’

Ishita had practised Kathak for almost a decade and Martial Arts for three to four years. The thought of laying the foundation of MukkaMaar came into her mind when she saw a documentary based on the horrific rape of a 5-year-old Gudiya. The documentary left her wholly shaken, and she decided to rise and do her bit at that moment. And that’s how the foundation of MukkaMaar was laid in Jan 2016.

“Everybody says that we should keep girls and women safe. While that is important, we equally need to understand that we also need to empower the girls so that they don’t need to rely on others to keep them safe,” says Ishita.

Making A Difference

MukkaMaar classes started with just 4 girls on a Mumbai beach. Slowly and steadily the number rose to 100. In March 2017, MTV created a video on Women’s day that gained ~1M views. The video also won the Promax award. In the same year, 9-year-old Nabila and Saniya participated in a district-level Wushu tournament and won gold and silver medals. MukkaMaar marked the end of 2017 by celebrating the victory of girls who brought home 14 medals.

In 2018, MukkaMaar established a partnership with BMC with access to all their 1100+ schools. The much-awaited day came in July 2018 when MukkaMaar got registered as a Charitable Trust under Maharashtra Public Trusts Act. In one competition after another, the girls bagged medals and trophies.

By the end of 2019, the NGO reached 75 BMC schools, with ~3000 girls enrolled. “Girls in schools had begun to speak openly about harassment, without shame, and reported responding positively and assertively to threats,” adds Ishita.

During the time of Covid, offline operations took a halt but the team continued taking online sessions and started training the girls online with a new campaign called ‘Mukki’. By April 2022, this WhatsApp-based program reached 16,000+ girls. 

“We started our offline classes again with 526 girls across 10 schools in July 2022 and by October, we expanded to 1500 girls across 36 schools in Mumbai,” states Ishita.

Ishita’s MukkaMaar works in partnership with government education departments to deliver its programs to students and teachers in government schools for sustained impact.

MukkaMaar’s Numbers

Ishita Sharma Mukkamaar

  • 4500+ Girls reached through ‘MukkaMaar Girls’
  • 75+ Schools reached through ‘MukkaMaar Girls’
  • 16,000+ Students reached through the digital program
  • 876k+ Messages exchanged on ‘POWER with Mukki’
  • 315+ Teachers trained through ‘Equity Labs’
  • 50,000+ Indirect students reached through teachers

POWER with Mukki

Practice On WhatsApp for Empowerment & Rewards (POWER) with Mukki is a chat-based learning interface. It uses 2-way conversational flows to build fitness (stamina, strength, flexibility), physical self-defence skills (punches, blocks, escapes, kicks), identification of types of violence, gender-sensitization, assertiveness, soft skills to deter threats, negotiation, awareness of rights and more.

With just a few months of dedicated daily chats and activities with Mukki, children can feel confident and be better prepared to deal with threats and violence.

“A girl is safe if we work on building a mindset of resilience and teach them the skills which help them protect themselves,” iterates Ishita.

She advises girls and women to never underestimate the power of their bodies. “Love yourself & your body and never place yourself second,” Ishita signs off.

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