Controversial or badass? This grandma trains girls in a special form of self-defense.

As a young girl, Meenakshi Raghavan stood out in a cool, if not controversial, way: She could keep up with the boys.

Her father noticed she was gifted in the art of kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art that originated in southern India. It was frowned upon for a girl to be involved in such an activity in mid-20th century India, Raghavan understood, but she also didn't want to be left out.

"Doing what is good for you is often a challenging task for women," she told YourStory correspondent Binjal Shah last year. Fortunately, her father was supportive of going against the gender-norms grain at the time, too, and Raghavan was able to continue practicing.


Now in her 70s, Raghavan is still going strong perfecting the art form, and she's empowered countless young women to do the same.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Raghavan's devotion to the art form may not be quite as controversial as it was when she was a little girl. But it's still a rarity.

Since 2009, Raghavan has taught kalaripayattu classes to those interested in learning the practice, which focuses on self-defense. Many of them are girls.

More than six decades after the grandma first started honing her craft, she's teaching about 150 students in classes three times a day throughout the summer and early fall. About one-third of her students are girls and women, ages 6 to 26, according to The News Minute.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

She expects the same from both her male and female students.

"Gender and community are totally irrelevant," said Raghavan, who is possibly the oldest female kalaripayattu practitioner in India.

"What matters is age. The earlier you start, the more proficient you are."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Kalaripayattu martial arts — an increasingly popular activity — has deep roots in Indian culture and is viewed as far more than a fighting technique.

First, students learn the ins and outs of mey payattu, or unarmed combat, which reflects kalaripayattu's emphasis on self-defense. But combat techniques using sticks, daggers, and swords are also infused into training, as well as extra attention to reparative physical healing — the consequences of battle.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

For many of Raghavan's female students, kalaripayattu is far more than a culturally significant activity.

Physical and sexual assault and rape remain at crisis levels in India. 41% of women experience violence or harassment by the age of 19, new research by Action Aid found. Just as troubling, nearly three-fourths of women surveyed in the report say they were harassed or violated within the past month alone.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

The skills that Raghavan's students learn may one day save their lives.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Raghavan is committed to empowering as many women as she can for as long as she can.

"Sword Granny," as Raghavan has lovingly been nicknamed, is as expert as they come. Yet her journey of discovery is far from complete.

I have been through all these levels," she said of her kalaripayattu training. "But I still consider myself a student in the process of learning. There is no ending in the process of learning kalari."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

With her community and family behind her, Raghavan promises to take as many children as possible under her wing for as long as she can.

Her work is too important not to.

"I consider myself a strong woman and will move forward, facing whatever challenge comes my way," she said. "My children are all very supportive, and that’s my confidence. Health-wise, by God’s grace, I am good, and praying to God to keep me healthier so that I can train more students."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

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Often, parents of children with special needs struggle to find Halloween costumes that will accommodate medical equipment or provide a proper fit. And figuring out how to make one? Yikes.

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Your child will be able to defeat Emperor Zurg in comfort with the Buzz Lightyear costume featuring a discreet flap opening at the front for easy tube access, with self-stick fabric closure. There is also an opening at the rear for wheelchair-friendly wear, and longer-length inseams to accommodate seated guests. To infinity and beyond!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

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Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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