They are nuns who know how to take care of themselves – and it’s a skill they are eager to share.
Introducing India’s Kung Fu nuns who are teaching self defence to young women amid rising reports of rape in the country.
“Most people think nuns just sit and pray, but we do more,” said 19-year-old Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, one of the Kung Fu trainers, as she rested after an intense two-hour session in Hemis village, 40 km from the northern city of Leh.
“We walk the talk. If we act, people will think: ‘If nuns can act, why can’t we?’”
“Kung Fu will make them stronger and more confident,” she said, adding that they decided to teach self-defence after hearing of cases of rape and molestation.
India’s remote and mountainous Ladakh region is perhaps the last place you would expect to see jabs and thrust kicks, especially performed by religious devotees.
But the nuns putting students through their paces belong to the Drukpa order of Himalayan Buddhism where they are encouraged to practice martial arts and celebrate gender equality.
Even their traditional maroon robes are periodically swapped for martial arts attire, with black belts.
As for their students, almost 100 women aged between 13 to 28 followed a rigorous 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule during the course in August.
It included techniques on handling being attacked from behind, moves such as takedowns and strikes, and discussions about how to react in possible sexual assault scenarios.
In 2015, more than 34,000 rapes were reported in India.
These figures are just the tip of the iceberg, say activists, as many victims are afraid to report cases, scared they will be blamed and shamed by their family and community.
Should the worst confront any of the women trained by the Kung Fu nuns, they should stand a fighting chance.
“It’s been tough and my whole body is aching but the nuns were very inspiring. All girls should learn Kung Fu,” said one participant Tsering Yangchen, a 23-year-old student.