It happened in 2009 when she was on her way to home from England for holidays. “I did not inform my parents because I wanted to surprise them,” says Trikala Chenna, trying to recall every small detail of the decade-old incident that changed the course of her life.
After waiting quite long at the airport for a cab that could take her to her native town of Tadepalligudem in West Godavari district, she boarded a bus and soon fell asleep as she was very tired. “I suddenly woke up to a sense of discomfort and realised that the man sitting behind me was trying to touch me inappropriately through the gap in the seat,” she recounts with disgust.
Assaults on women in the form of groping, grabbing, or pinching is sadly common in crowded public places. “But what is most disturbing is that people around don’t respond. I was aghast, yelling at that ‘beast’ but not a single person in the bus raised a voice against him.”
That moment she realised that waiting passively for someone or something to come to her rescue will not remedy the situation. “A lot of our culture is made up of this drama. We all have heard stories of the damsel in distress, a villain holding her captive and a hero who breezes in to rescue her. But this dynamic doesn’t apply in real life. I want girls and women harbouring such ‘rescue fantasies’ to wake up. We need to find ways to protect ourselves,” she emphasises.
Trikala confronted the perpetrator, caught him by the collar and had him get down from the bus.
The fact that a few of her close friends from London and China turned down her invitation to visit India citing the ‘insecure environment for girls’ here also set her thinking. She soon initiated an awareness drive on the need to equip girls with self-defence techniques; she insisted that it should they should be incorporated in school curriculum and made mandatory for women employees at the work place. To drum up public support, she embarked on a State-wide signature campaign.
At Visakhapatnam, she met the Human Resource Development Minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao who signed the representation and appreciated the cause. This had a chain effect — she visited local political leaders and Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan and then approached Union Ministers like Prakash Javadekar, Nirmala Seetharaman, Santosh Gangwar and Maneka Gandhi.
There was not much response, but Trikala doggedly pursued her goal. “I was like an obsessed, mad woman, going from one Minister to the other,” she says. When she approached the Delhi Police, they advised her to present it to the Government as a structured pilot proposal. A couple of months later, she knocked on the door of the Prime Minister’s Office with her proposal ‘Fearless Girls’ in 2015.
After repeated visits, she received a letter from Maneka Gandhi in May in 2017 informing that the Government was ready to introduce her proposal of self-defence training for girl students of Std. 8 and 9 in all CBSE schools to begin with.
Happy, but not quite done, Trikala continues her crusade through her Global Support Organisation, insisting that the project be implemented from KG to PG and also for working women. “This is the only way to check the all-pervasive growing menace of sexual abuse of women,” she argues.
In the last eight years, Trikala has spent all her savings to impart free training in self-defence to nearly 20,000 girls and women of various walks of life in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
After pursuing hotel management in Chennai, she moved to London where she worked for the Melia, Hilton and Copthorne Tara hotels before setting up PC Consultancy, an accountancy firm. “I have some very good friends who operate the firm efficiently while I am here, trying to do whatever little I can to make a difference,” says Trikala who is a permanent resident of London.
Along with ‘Fearless Girls’, she is also focused on a new project ‘Solve’ designed to inculcate social responsibility in students. “The ‘Solve’ model, if integrated in the school curriculum, can make students responsible and help them imbibe good habits,” she says.