Nikhat Zareen has struck another blow for Indian women in sport by winning a gold medal in the 52-kg category in boxing. She joins the sport’s iconic Mary Kom as only the second Indian woman boxer to win a world championship gold medal outside India. It seems unremarkable today that so many Indian women should be in sport and competing internationally. Athletes like Nikhat who had to fight the resistance her community put up had to bear even greater burdens on the road to achievement.
It is a sign of maturity of attitude in parents that they have been allowing girls to enjoy the same freedoms as the males of their age groups in taking to sport, which nowadays is a virtual avocation. But then Indian women have been at it, not only in fighting for their rights to equality in all spheres, including in the armed forces, for decades now but have also broken the glass ceilings consistently to show they are a force to be reckoned with way beyond traditional homemaker duties that had kept so many millions tied down for centuries in conservative Indian society.
The years Nikhat has stayed glued to the sport of her choice until realising her dream of a world championship boxing medal after a breakthrough victory in junior ranks 11 years ago with a silver medal in Bulgaria tells a story of dedication to a cause. Boxers of Nikhat’s generation are fortunate, however, to have had before them the likes of Mary Kom, L. Sarita Devi, Jenny and Lekha, as inspirational figures who had hit stardust at the worlds while enjoying the fruits of exposure to evolved, universal training methods.
Notwithstanding their having made their point emphatically in all spheres including in such physical sports like boxing and wrestling, total freedom to express themselves is all too important for women who make up nearly half the population. What they have had to fight, besides meeting sporting targets, can be gleaned from the fact that, in a male-dominated setting, even the superrich cricket board is just setting up a women’s T20 league in 2022 to present a modicum of equal opportunity.