Photo © Arko Datto

Nikki

“Judo has given me strength”

Nikki is 20 years old. She’s a dedicated student, and her favourite subject in school is geography, because, she says, “In geography we learn about the earth and we can learn more about human beings.”

But Nikki isn’t just a good student. She’s also a pretty amazing judoka.

And she is visually impaired.

Nikki walking in a field.

Nikki near her home in Madhya Pradesh.

Photo © Arko Datto

In 2014 in Madhya Pradesh, India, a group of young women with visual impairments started learning self-defence as part of a social inclusion initiative run by Sightsavers with a local DPO (disabled people’s organisation) called Tarun Sanskar.

After starting with self-defence classes, the group started learning judo, and it turned out they were pretty excellent at it! They started competing – and winning – at national championships all over India.

For many of the girls that meant travelling and experiencing other parts of India for the first time.

“Before starting judo,” says Nikki, “I was not going out anywhere, [but] now I can go anywhere. Like I came here [Delhi] for the competition.”

Nikki and three other girls dressed in judogis sat outside.

Nikki, Babita (far left), Janki (left) and Sudama (far right) chatting outside the hall where the judo portion of the USHA Sports Championships for the Blind is taking place in Delhi.

Photo © Arko Datto

For Nikki and her friends, judo has opened up the world in more than one way.

Madhya Pradesh state has the highest reported incidents of sexual violence in India. Young women with disabilities are especially vulnerable to attacks, so the judo skills the girls have learned have made a huge impact. They now have the freedom and independence to go outside their homes, visit friends and to go to school.

Nikki pinning down another judo competitor on the mat.

Nikki during one of her fights at the USHA Sports Championships for the Blind in Delhi.

Photo © Arko Datto

As Nikki puts it:

I like judo. Judo has changed me. Now I can go out, and if somebody wants to harass me, then I can use my techniques to save myself. Now I can go to school confidently. I can even go to the market.

Nikki’s family are grateful for the difference that judo has made in her life too.: “We have seen a lot of change in Nikki after she joined judo,” says her father Kuwarlal.

“Now she can move independently. Whenever she is going out [to play judo], and when she is coming back, we feel proud. We feel like our chest has become large, because she is doing so well and we feel so proud.”

Nikki and her parents sat in the doorway of their blue house.

Nikki at home with her parents.

Photo © Arko Datto

After Nikki brought home a silver medal in one of the national championships, she started to gain attention in her community. Other young women, both with and without visual impairments, would come and ask her to train them.
“Now people have started knowing me,” she says.

“They invite me to teach them. They say, ‘Teach me how, let me know how you do it, I also want to learn.’”

Nikki has trained to become a self-defence instructor, and she is determined to continue to use judo to create a better life for herself and others.

“Study has given me intelligence and judo has given me strength, in such a way that I can use it to go further,” she explains. “I can use it to teach. I can face any situation. I didn’t know I had that strength.”