Nizamabad—the city (in Telangana) where Nikhat Zareen grew up, wasn’t what one would term “supportive”, especially if a woman from the community was taking the road less travelled. But the 24-year-old boxer had exactly that in mind, for she was aching to prove a point—men and women are equal, even when it comes to their physical strengths.
Flashback to 2009. Zareen decided to pursue a career in boxing owing to the limited number of women enrolling for it. “When my father and I went to a sports arena in the city, I saw women training in various sports, but not boxing. As a curious teenager all of 13 years old, I asked my father, ‘ladkiyaan kyun nahin karti boxing?’ And he said, ‘ladkiyon mein itna dum nahin hota.’ I couldn’t digest the fact. Till then, I had never thought on these lines. I was raring to change the notion.”
As expected, her decision to take up boxing raised eyebrows. “I was told that boxing may lead to injuries to the face, which would make it difficult for me to get married. To an extent, my mother harboured the same notion, and initially wasn’t delighted at the thought of me pursuing it,” says Zareen.
With eyes on a medal, she began training under Mohammed Samsamuddin, her father’s friend. Her first one came in the form of (ADD DETAILS OF THE NATIONAL MEDAL). She followed that up with a gold in AIBA Women’s Junior and Youth World Boxing Championship in 2011, silver in Youth World Boxing Championship held in Bulgaria 2014 and gold in 16th Senior Woman National Boxing Championship at Assam in 2015. Her career highlight, to-date, is the silver at the 2019 Thailand Open International Boxing Tournament held in Bangkok.
Zareen reveals that she wasn’t recognised for her achievements initially, a phase that brings along a smile to her face (in hindsight, of course). “Where I lived, people knew me by the name ‘Bushra’. When articles in papers spoke about my victories along with blurry pictures and addressed me as Nikhat Zareen, no one knew it was me. That changed post international victories,” she says.
To talk of hindsight, almost a year since the controversy with Mary Kom (wherein the senior pro refused to come forward for the customary handshake post the trial for Olympic qualifiers in New Delhi) made headlines, how does she see that moment now? “I wasn’t against Mary Kom. I was against the system. I only wanted a fair trial. However, that match has pushed me to work even harder to improve my performance, and someday become World no 1,” she explains.
The boxer goes on to confess that controversies and what is being said about her matters little when she recalls that feeling of being on the podium with a medal around her neck. “Nothing compares to the Indian national anthem playing in the background. I get teary-eyed every time.”
With the past behind her, the boxer is now eyeing the Commonwealth Games 2022, and currently, focusing on bringing the medal home. “I am training in Hyderabad with limited equipment. The national camp sends out my fitness routine which I diligently follow. I skip and use a training bag to keep fit,” she tells us.
This is not the first time that Zareen is battling an unfavourable scenario, which is why, she is determined to prove her worth yet again. “From the time I was starting out to now, I have had many pull me down. I have learnt to not be swayed, and focus on my game instead. There’s just something about getting in the ring, and smashing those doubts,” she signs off.