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Geeta Phogat and Zareen Nikhat back self-defence for Indian women

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Geeta Phogat is a freestyle wrestler from Haryana and and Zareen Nikhat a boxer born in Andhra Pradesh; both are supported by JSW’s Sports Excellence Program.

Geeta Phogat and Zareen Nikhat firmly believe girls should arm themselves with some form of self-defence and that sport is a good way to be fit and confident. The former is a freestyle wrestler from Haryana, the latter a boxer born in Andhra Pradesh. Both are supported by JSW’s Sports Excellence Program.

The first Indian female wrestler to attain Olympic qualification (London 2012), Geeta asserts: “Every girl should take up some sport to keep herself fit. Confidence will come if she knows some way to protect herself.” Zareen, AIBA World Youth Boxing silver medallist (Bulgaria 2013), is more direct. “Girls should learn some way to look after themselves. I became a boxer to chase my passion and it has taught me that difficult situations can be overcome.”

Girls learning wrestling, boxing or any other physical contact sport struggle without parental or family support. Geeta was fortunate to be born in a wrestlers family, Zareen had to work harder to overcome opposition within her family.

The Commonwealth Games 55kg freestyle wrestling gold medallist says: “Family support is crucial for girls taking up any sport, especially body contact events. In my case, father (Mahavir Singh Phogat) was a wrestler so support at home was not a problem for me or my sister Babita.” The latter is also an international wrestler in 52kgs category.

Geeta is from Balali district and trained in mud arenas under father’s supervision. Girls exerting muscles in the wrestling pit was unthinkable, till she made headlines winning 55kg freestyle gold in CWG 2010 at New Delhi. She can not only protect herself, but her example inspired other girls to realise that wrestling was not off-limits.

The biggest hurdle Zareen faced learning boxing was opposition from her family. “Girls stepping out of the house to learn sport are not encouraged. It is said they put the family in awkward situation. My people are conservative, I faced opposition from relatives on my father’s side.”

Winning the ‘best boxer’ award at a regional competition won over father Jameel Ahmed, now firmly in his daughter’s corner. Muhammad Ali was her first inspiration, now it is Mary Kom. “I fight in the same weight category as her. In future, I may even be in the ring opposite my idol. For now, becoming national champion is my goal.”

Zareen moved down from 55 kg category to 51kg and is waiting to turn 18 when she can fight in the senior ranks. “I am not old enough to compete in senior events like the CWG, so will wait,” said the lean fighter.

Geeta spent so much time mastering holds in training camps that it was hard make friends away from wrestling. Zareen realised very soon that recognition as a boxer has its downside. “Friends are careful when talking with me. Earlier they discussed anything, now they are wary not knowing how I will react to something.”

Both won’t be on the flight to Glasgow for CWG 2014. Geeta is recovering from a knee injury and is likely to miss the Asian Games. Zareen is eager to compete with seniors. “Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt won medals at London Olympics. I watched all their bouts and the atmosphere was inspiring,” said the former.

Zareen quipped: “A film is being made on Mary Kom’s life, for us women boxers this is a proud feeling.” The world champion and Olympic bronze medallist belongs to Manipur, where sport is a way to make a living. Her life-story in movie form, shown on screens across India, may be a big push for girls dreaming of a sporting career.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 9:02:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/geeta-phogat-and-zareen-nikhat-back-selfdefence-for-indian-women/article6229142.ece

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