Kolkata girls: ready for boxing

Kolkata girls: ready for boxing

For young Muslim and Hindu girls in the outskirts of Calcutta,  boxing is becoming the path to a brighter future. In 2011 there were around 200 female boxers in India. The Muslim communities of West Bengal contribute about 55 per cent of the total. This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.With a rape occurring every 20 minutes in a country with a population of 1.2 billion,  women are far from being seen as equal in all segments of Indian society. To combat this,  training academies around Calcutta set out to boosts girls’ morale,  and self-confidence,  as well as to help them learn self-defence and to stay fit. Private colleges also hire professional martial arts trainers and organize short-term courses for their students. All these initiatives are aimed at making women strong,  so that they can defend themselves in case of rape.

by contributor Alice Sassu

For young Muslim and Hindu girls in the outskirts of Calcutta,  boxing is becoming the path to a brighter future. In 2011 there were around 200 female boxers in India. The Muslim communities of West Bengal contribute about 55 per cent of the total. This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.With a rape occurring every 20 minutes in a country with a population of 1.2 billion,  women are far from being seen as equal in all segments of Indian society. To combat this,  training academies around Calcutta set out to boosts girls’ morale,  and self-confidence,  as well as to help them learn self-defence and to stay fit. Private colleges also hire professional martial arts trainers and organize short-term courses for their students. All these initiatives are aimed at making women strong,  so that they can defend themselves in case of rape.

Simmi started boxing at the age of 13. She has participated in the State and National level Olympics. Having just turned 19 in April, she now has her sights set on the international Olympics. Kolkata (West Bengal – India). Nasim, the Coach of KSOPC - Boxing Club, says “Right now, we need moral support and strength to give them [the athletes] better equipment and food. Some students are from very poor financial backgrounds. Their parents work as taxi drivers, servants, etc. We can’t advance like this. It is necessary for us that people should come forward and help us and our club. Only then will we be able to produce gold medallists like Ali Kuwar and international boxers like Mustafa Kamal”. Young boxers train in Ali Park, Ekbalpore, where the “KSOPC - Boxing Club” is located. Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs all gather here to train. Karamiit started boxing one year ago and she earned a gold medal in little time. Boxing was her passion from her childhood, as she used to see her old friend Simmi go to the club. Now she has finally had the chance to participate herself. Ekbalpore, near Kolkata’s docks, is a Muslim dominated neighborhood dotted with dingy slums and gambling dens. Despite being a primarily Muslim area, it is also a place where Hindus and Sikhs live in harmony with the Muslim majority and where everyone supports one another. Kashmira trains in the gym. Ajmira and Kashmira are sisters and they are living in a small Muslim village located 32 km from Kolkata. They started boxing three years ago and they practice in Ekbalpore because it is the best club in Kolkata. It is also convenient for them because their father has a small shop in the neighborhood. Ajmira is going to go to pray in her room. Ajmira and Kashmira are sisters and they are living in a small Muslim village located 32 km from Kolkata. They started boxing three years ago and they practice in Ekbalpore because it is the best club in Kolkata. It is also convenient for them because their father has a small shop in the neighborhood.  Karamjit is preparing to go in the club. She has been living in a small room with six of her family members in Ekbalpore. They live in very difficult economic conditions, but she is determined to do a lot of things in her life. Zarine and Ujala fight in the ring. Both of them started boxing only one year ago, but they have shown promising skill. Zarine, Ujala and other male boxers watch a match in the ring. Shaina and Sufia fight in the ring. Some young Muslim boys play in Ali Park, Ekbalpore, where the “Kidderpore School of Physical Culture” is located. Zarine in an Ekbalpore street. She often helps her family sell vegetables from their street cart. Simmi fights in the ring against a boy. “Despite the fact that I am a Muslim, I still come to practice. Other children who hesitate to participate can perhaps feel a bit free [if they tried]. – Simmi continues- I want to do much better in my game.” “Reaching to the national level is definitely an achievement, but I have to move ahead
to the international level. I want to make my parents, my club and my country proud of
what I am doing, so that people believe that even the Muslim community is an advanced
one; and that they would not demean us any more. – Simmi continues - I want to get a job
and make my own identity”. Zarine in the ring. Coming from a very underprivileged background, Zarine has benefited from the opportunity provided by the club. Kashmira, also known as “Didi”, is shy and beautiful girl. When she boxes her personality changes completely. Ajmira with her mother and two of her four brothers. In the same house her father, two other brothers, and a sister in law also live. Only the father and one son work. They work in a small shop in Ekbalpore.  Ekbalpore, near Kolkata’s docks, is a Muslim dominated neighborhood dotted with dingy slums and gambling dens. Despite being a primarily Muslim area, it is also a place where Hindus and Sikhs live in harmony with the Muslim majority and where everyone
supports one another. Aditi is a young girl who started boxing one year ago. She says: “There is no game only for boys or only for girls. I love boxing and I used to follow boxing matches on television. 
 Kashmira and Ajmira inside a train. Ajmira and Kashmira everyday use the train and the bus to go to Ekbalpore. The journey takes then around 2 hours each way. Ajmira says “Every woman should learn the art of self-defense. It can be karate or boxing, because women should know how to protect themselves. Why should we bang [rely] on other people for our safety?” Nasim, the Coach of KSOPC - Boxing Club speaks about Ekbalpore saying “that nowadays people are changing their minds; people are coming to understand that girls can do many things, whether they are Muslim or Hindu. Girls should do something with their lives”. Ajmira and Kashmira in their room. The sisters are living in a small Muslim village located 32 km from Kolkata. Their community and their parents are proud for their passion in boxing. Ajmira in the ring with a boy. “In my future I want to become a boxing coach. I have faced many financial problems to go to the high level. I want to train students so that they don’t face such problems; so that they get all the help and facilities they want”. Shaina is going to the ring. Shaina speaks very good English. Her mother is Punjabi and she started to study in an English school. Her family cares a lot about her future and her education. Karamiit started boxing one year ago and she earned a gold medal in little time. Boxing was her passion from her childhood, as she used to see her old friend Simmi go to the club. Now she has finally had the chance to participate herself. “Reaching to the national level is definitely an achievement, but I have to move ahead to the international level. I want to make my parents, my club and my country proud of what I am doing, so that people believe that even the Muslim community is an advanced one; and that they would not demean us any more. – Simmi continues - I want to get a job
and make my own identity”. While there are many boxing clubs in India, few are like Ekbalpore. It is a club with a lot of girls, boys and children training together like a family. The parents of the teens trust
in the work of the coaches Nasim and China. Everyday they are teach and train boxers without any payment and with any kind of support from the government.