At least 50 sex workers in India attended self-defence classes today to learn how to protect themselves from local thugs, violent clients and pimps.
The karate training programme was organised by Indira Female Peer Educators Collective, a sex workers' rights group.
The five-day programme kicked off in a public park in Chennai where they were shown skills using a nanchaku, a traditional Oriental weapon consisting of two sticks connected with a short chain or rope.
Sanyogita Dhamdhere from the Centre for Advocary and Research, an organisation committed to women's empowerment, told the Press Association that the primary source of violence was the sex worker's pimp or partner.
"Violence from partners and pimps is the primary issue. Many sex workers need someone as emotional partners - 'husbands' who they are not married to. The sex worker sometimes falls in love with him and after a while, issues involving money or pregnancy crop up.
"This is the start of domestic violence as any small thing generally leads to the woman getting beaten up. The next two threats are local goons (thugs) and the police. This is where self defence can really help."
Ms Dhamdhere added that martial arts was not only a way to protect them against violence, but also boosted their self-confidence.
Jaya, one of the sex workers who attended the programme, said she faced a lot of violence from pimps and clients. She added that they were often beaten if they refused to give in to their demands.
Another sex worker named Vasanthi said the pimps forced them to entertain as many men as possible and beat them when they asked for a share of the money. "Next time somebody tries something funny, I will kick his b****," she said.
Sex workers have now formed collectives where they can fight against violence from thugs and the police, Ms Dhamdhere said. "But they consider violence from partners as a personal issue so self defence will help."