Boxing days: On Nikhat Zareen

Nikhat could inspire many Indian girls to take up boxing, seen by many as a male sport

Updated - May 23, 2022 01:14 am IST

Published - May 23, 2022 12:10 am IST

For a country that sought boxing inspiration from six-time World boxing champion M.C. Mary Kom and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain, Nikhat Zareen’s World title in the women’s 52 kg class in Istanbul is a fresh source of optimism. The Nizamabad-born Nikhat’s story of struggle is vastly different from those emerging from Haryana or the North East. The widespread celebration of her success in India should further amplify the spread of boxing within the country. As the fifth World champion Indian woman boxer, who is the only one after Mary to win a gold in the last 16 years, Nikhat has joined an exclusive club of Mary, Sarita Devi, R.L. Jenny and K.C. Lekha. Her gold was the first by an Indian woman after Mary’s sixth World title in 2018. For boxing fans, who were disheartened after India’s below-par showing in the Tokyo Olympics, where Lovlina landed a lone bronze, Nikhat has provided cheer. Nikhat’s journey was packed with challenges and she was determined to break barriers. When, as a teenager, she got to know that girls were not encouraged to take up boxing in her area as the combat sport was considered tailor-made for boys, Nikhat switched from sprinting to boxing to prove a point. Hailing from a Muslim family, she overcame hurdles posed by conservatives in society.

When Nikhat, a 2011 World junior champion, tried to graduate to the elite level, a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2017 stole a year away from her. Two years later, she was embroiled in a controversy, when she got on to the wrong side of her idol Mary in the run-up to the trials for the Olympics qualifier. She lost the trials and it stirred a debate and left a trail of bad blood. But nothing could dent Nikhat’s steely resolve. Her parents remained her pillars of strength through thick and thin. The 25-year-old, who personifies the rise of women’s power in sport, worked hard with different coaches and imbibed the best lessons from them to emerge as a polished boxer. Nikhat’s new status will boost her confidence and make her a force to reckon with in events such as the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the 2024 Paris Olympics. An ample supply of talented boxers will only benefit the country in its quest for a better performance in Paris. As a World champion, Nikhat could inspire many Indian girls who suppress their desire to take up boxing, wary as they are about an orthodox society. Nikhat’s tale may strike a chord with talented boxers and motivate them to follow in the footsteps of the new poster girl of Indian sport.

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