There are some people you meet in your lifetime who can change your life forever.
On my trip to India, I met one of the most intelligent, kind and funniest women I’ve ever known. Aparna Rajawat was our Tour Director and Guide, and I definitely drew the “lucky card” to have her be the person who introduced me to the India I’ve always wanted to know. She was superb at doing her job, she took great care of our group, her knowledge about anything and everything in India was vast and she taught us so much more than just describing the history and story behind the sites we saw each day. Through Aparna, I learned about her India. The real India.
So here is where this post takes a twist. As we learned more about India and its culture, Aparna shared with us the statistics and recent stories about the violence and sexual assault against women in her country. Every 13 minutes a woman is raped. Every day six women are the target of gang rapes. Every month 19 women are subjected to acid attacks. While I was there a 27-year old veterinarian was raped, beaten and burned alive. A three-year old little girl was raped. Although things are changing, the “social norms” that have existed for centuries sadly still exist. Women are still subjected to fear and violence simply because some men think it’s their right to treat them that way.
Not once in my life have I been concerned about being attacked or raped in my country. I know that it certainly can happen and has happened to others, but it is not something that most women in the USA have cause to worry about. I can’t even begin to fathom the daily horror of not being able to walk down the street without fear, or worse yet, in your own home being subject to unwelcome treatment by a family member. The stories that Aparna told us were appalling, unimaginable to all of us. For many years I’ve traveled a lot for business in the U.S., often arriving late at night to a hotel or getting into a taxi, and I learned to be smart and keep my wits about me. I have traveled in many countries and never had any problems, but again you learn — especially as a woman traveling alone — to be smart and not invite trouble.
Aparna has taken it on as her personal mission and life’s work to help the women of India — her “sisters” — become educated in a multitude of ways, from their legal rights to their social rights. Two years ago she started the Pink Belt Mission to not only educate women but train them in self defense, safety and empowerment, and to date she has trained over 150,000 women. Aparna and a group of volunteers that continues to grow in number host events across India to educate and train, and now she is working towards a lofty goal. On February 19, 2020 she is organizing the Pink Power event on a football field in Agra, India (home of the Taj Mahal) to gather and train over 25,000 women in one place and break a Guinness Book of World Records. I have no doubt she is going to succeed.
Aparna’s family’s clan is the Rajputs, a high caste warrior status known for their loyalty and valor. So it’s no surprise that she was a 16-time women’s national martial arts champion in India. She was breaking records as a woman long before other girls were even thinking about participating in such activities.
Her story and mission caught the eye of Hollywood producer and director John McCrite and he has begun filming a documentary about Aparna and the Pink Belt Mission. He and his crew soon will be filming across India as they document the history and current situation of violence against women. Here is a link to the trailer for the upcoming documentary, scheduled for release in August 2020. When you watch this trailer, you cannot help but be mesmerized by the statistics, and moved to learn more about Aparna’s mission.
Aparna is going to change the world by changing the lives of women — and men — in India, young and old, one person at a time. Can you imagine the impact she is going to have for future generations? How incredible is that? I want to be a part of what she is doing to help the millions of women in this country that captured my heart. Along with other women who met her on our trip we’ve committed to being part of her Pink Belt Team USA support group in the states to spread the word and garner the attention of anyone who can help this mission to succeed.
Because we are all sisters, whether we know each other or not. Whether we live in the same country or not. When we make the world a better, safer place for one we do it for all of us.
Recently I read two articles about the safety of traveling as a woman in India, I am including links to them below. Much of the advice is applicable regardless of which country you may be traveling in. Common sense. Is it safe for a woman to travel in India? I want to be part of a world where one day this question doesn’t even need to be asked.
Often people don’t want to talk about problems such as this because it makes them uncomfortable, or they don’t know what they can do about it. Talk about an inconvenient truth! However, we’ve all learned that nothing changes if you leave such unpleasant topics hidden away and in the dark. They must be addressed, wide open and loudly, to effect change.
I signed up to be a part of that change. Watch the documentary trailer. How about you?