Two Religions, One Passion in Women's Boxing

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Video story by : Francesco Pistilli & Alice Sassu

In India, young women are beginning to see boxing as a way to advance in life. This is the story of two female boxers, one Muslim and one Hindu, and how boxing has had an impact on their personal lives, their self-worth, and their aspirations for their communities and society.

In 2011 there were around 200 female boxers in India, and the Muslim communities of West Bengal contribute about 55 per cent of the total. This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

Asit Banerjee, the president of the South Calcutta Physical Cultural Association began a campaign for women's participation in the sport at a meeting of the Indian Boxing Federation in 1998. Now, women boxers have already made an impact on India, and light-flyweight Mary Kom won a world boxing championship in 2003. In recent years, Banerjee has carried out a social experiment in Ekbalpore, and its neighboring Muslim ghettos by bringing together men and women, Hindus and Muslims, to box.

The result: social and religious prejudices appear to crumble.

The Ekbalpore women were drawn to boxing after watching local young men in action at the neighboring Kidderpore School of Physical Culture. Their interest grew after Mohammed Ali Qamar, a local youth, won a gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and after the case of Razia Shabnam. Despite stiff family opposition, Shabnam was one of the first from her neighborhood to take up boxing. She is now a coach and an international referee.

Script

  1. soundbite (Bengali)
    Asit Benarjee, President, South Calcutta Physical Cultural Association: 00.33 - 1.33 :: In 1999 people started to think about women boxing and its acceptance. I think in the Pune National Games, a meeting was held. Everyone used to oppose me. I was alone. So I proved to them that there is a killing instinct in women. If we provide them proper training and maintain a discipline, then they will be champions in the future. There is tremendous power within girls. They can take punches. They can counter attack. They can defeat boys. Girls never forget their insults; they take revenge. They will be our champions.
  2. soundbite (Bengali)
    Tina Sardar, 22, Boxer: 01.35 – 2.44 :: I started boxing 5 years ago. There was no real reason. My father asked me about sports to select as a profession. I thought boxing would be the best option to take. Girls need to know self defense in nowadays. After I started boxing, I liked it a lot. Now, I love boxing. In the coming future I want to be a boxer, and want other girls to take up the sport. I never faced any problems with teasing and all, but I think it’s good for girls to learn boxing or self defense. I used to follow boxing matches on television. The game is not categorized as only for boys or only for girls. Today, boys and girls are equal in all fields. From the very beginning, my father has always supported me. I never had any kind of problem in my family, and I wish not to have any such problem in future.
  3. soundbite (Hindi)
    Simmi Parreen, 19, Boxer: 02.52 - 03.33 :: Despite the fact that I am a Muslim, I still come to practice. Other children who hesitate to participate could perhaps feel a bit free [if they tried]. I want to do much better in my game. I want to make the Muslim community proud so that other girls can be confident enough to participate in any sport they want. Boxing, as a result, is the sport through which I can better my society.
  4. soundbite (Hindi)
    Simmi Parreen, 19, Boxer: 03.34 - 04.08 :: 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. I want to get a job and make my own identity.
  5. soundbite (Bengali)
    Nasim, Coach, Kidderpore School of Physical Culture, Kolkata: 04.15 - 05.37 :: Nowadays people are changing their minds. It’s the 20th century. People are coming to understand that girls can do many things, whether they be Muslim or Hindu. Girls should do something with their lives. People in Ekbalpur, Kidderpore are changing their mindset. They come to visit the club. Girls like Simmi, Karamjeet, Puja, etc are boxing. They are challenging the boys. If boys hit them, they counter attack. If a boy hits them four times, the girls also hit them at least thee times. So, people are becoming aware of it, and their conceptions about women boxing are changing. They understand that this is a disciplinary sport, so now they bring their small kids to our club to learn. Muslim and other Hindu girls are also learning here, so people are inspired by them and send their kids here to learn as well.
  6. soundbite (Bengali)
    Tina Sardar, 22, Boxer: 5.48 – 6.24 :: I have not yet thought about my marriage life, and I’m not feeling any kind of pressure from my parents. In my near future I want to become a boxing coach. I have faced many financial problems to get to this level. I will want to train students so they don’t face such problems; so they get all the help and facilities they want. I want to start my own gym, at my own place with my own equipment.
  7. soundbite (Bengali)
    Tina's Mother: 6.25 – 6.50 :: At first I used to get very angry. I told her “What kind of sport have you chosen, coming home with broken nose, cuts on your face etc. ?" My husband used to try make me understand saying, “Don’t worry. Everything is gonna be fine," but I didn’t like her choice of sport. Now, when I watch her, I think its fine. She has chosen a good path. My husband agreed that this sport was good for her.
  8. soundbite (Bengali)
    Nasim, Coach, Kidderpore School of Physical Culture, Kolkata: 07.03 - 08.01 :: Right now, we need moral support and strength to give them better equipment and food. Some student are from a very poor financial back ground. Their parents work as taxi drivers, servants, etc. We can’t advance like this. It’s necessary for us that people should come forward and help us and our club. Only then will we be able to produce gold medalists like Ali Kuwar and international boxers like Mustafa Kamal. A time will come when Simmi will also be popular, and her name will be mention beside that of Mary Kom. She has the capability to do so. In these efforts, we have very high potential, but not are getting any such support. If we get some support, then we can show girls in Ekbalpur, Kidderpore - especially Muslim girls - that they can do many things in life. That they are on an equal footing as girls.