Janki and Shanti sat outside at sunset.
Janki and Shanti sat outside at sunset.

Photo © Arko Datto

Janki and Shanti

“Now we can move around alone. We can defend ourselves"

Janki and Shanti, are sisters. They like listening to music, watching TV and spending time with their friends. And just like most other sisters they get on each other’s nerves.

Janki, the older and more outspoken sister, bosses around Shanti, who is quieter and less assertive. But unlike most young women, they are also both judo players, and both visually impaired.

The two sisters started learning self-defence and judo in the hope that they would be able to go out and about in their community more freely. Being visually impaired, both of them felt vulnerable to harassment, and this fear meant that they never went far from their home.

Janki and Shanti at the entrance to their courtyard. Shanti pets a goat.

Janki and Shanti with one of the goats from the goatery the family runs to generate an income.

Photo © Arko Datto

Learning self-defence has had a huge impact on Janki and Shanti – it has empowered them with not only the confidence to go out when they want to, but also the knowledge that they can fight back if anyone tries to challenge or take advantage of them.

“Things have changed for us,” says Shanti. “Now we can move around alone and if somebody wants to harass us, then we can defend ourselves. We can use our judo skills. I feel good because now I have the confidence that I can move alone freely.”

For Janki, the transformation to her life has been even more profound. She has gone on to compete internationally, which has meant getting a passport and travelling on an aeroplane for the first time – something she would never have thought possible before.

Janki has taken down a competitor. They are both down on the mat. A referee signals the fight is over.

Janki winning one of her fights at the USHA Sports Championships for the Blind in Delhi, January 2018.

Photo © Arko Datto

“I was very happy because I never dreamed I would fly out of India,” she says. “I never dreamed I would fly on an aeroplane. The first time, when I boarded the plane, I was thinking, ‘I will never quit judo!.’”

“Before playing judo,” she continues, “things were totally different – now things are better. Before I started playing judo I was always at my home, I was just doing household chores or watching television, sleeping and visiting a few friends. But now my friend circle has grown. When I came back from competing in Uzbekistan, there wasn’t even enough space in my house for all the people who turned up.”

Janki’s also found herself in high demand as a self-defence trainer for friends in her community. “Some girls are asking me to teach them judo, and that makes me feel happy,” she says. “They are not blind but many of them are going to school and college, and in some scenarios they need to protect themselves. so they can use the judo techniques.”

“I want to tell other people who are blind like me that they should also learn judo, and if they want me to, I can teach them,” Janki says. “The success which I am getting, hopefully, they will have the same success like me.”

Janki, Shanti and their mother sat on the steps of their blue house.

Janki, Shanti and their mother.

Photo © Arko Datto

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