Nikhat Zareen wins over family resistance

nikhaNEW DELHI: It was an evening walk with her father in Nizamabad, Andhra Pradesh four years ago that eventually led Nikhat Zareen to a Youth World Boxing silver medal in Bulgaria last week.

Strolling with her father at the town’s Collector Ground after her Std VIII exams, Nikhat found that all disciplines at the ongoing Urban Games there had women participants, except for boxing.

“Why?” a curious 13-year-old asked her father. “Kyunki kisi ke paas itna dum nahi hai,” was father Mohammad Jameel Ahmed’s reply. “It was then I decided what I had to do and I told my father that I want to show people that a girl could box too,” Nikhat told TOI on Monday.

Smiling, Jameel Ahmed, an estate agent, may have given his teenaged daughter his blessings, but Nikhat’s battles had only just begun.

Hailing from a conservative Muslim family, the daughter-father duo found resistance from within their community. “In a Muslim family, they believe girls should not be given the liberty to go out,” remembers Nikhat adding, “Our relatives admonish my father, ‘Jawaan ladki ko kahan bahar bhej rahe ho?'”

There would be taunts, jibes and sniggers but an undeterred Nikhat would not give up on her dream, even if she was the only girl among a host of boys picking up early gloves at Nizamabad. “I was under a lot of pressure at that time,” says the Std XII student at the New Kakatiya Women’s College, adding, “Also, it felt a little uncomfortable as I was the only girl. But slowly I got used to it.”

Soon, Nikhat was inducted into the Sports Authority of India (Vishakhapatnam ) to train under Dronacharya awardee IV Rao. A year later she was being declared as the ‘golden best boxer’ at the Erode Nationals in 2010.

Soon, the community resistance was a thing of the past. “There are restrictions in the Islamic religion. But, having been a sportsman myself, I believe there is no religion in sports. I tell Nikhat that Mary Kom missed the gold in London Games, but I want you to emulate that in Rio,” says Jameel Ahmed, who captained his district team in cricket and participated actively in athletics and football.

At the Collector Ground that day, Nikhat was gently coaxed by her father into trying her had at athletics. She showed a natural flair for it and the next day newspapers flashed Nikhat’s pictures as the upcoming talent from the state. Encouraged , the father began giving her athletics coaching and she finished fourth at the state level.

But she was destined for the ring, even as she pursued athletics for a year and half. “I discussed it with her, told her she needs to be bold and strong, and a punch can damage your face,” remembers the father. Nikhat agreed and within three months she won at the state level.

Since then there has been no looking back. Her father accompanies her to camps and tournaments. “I watch her diet and most importantly want to see that she’s training well. I like to tell her weaknesses after bouts and discuss with her how to improve. She feels encouraged in my presence. It will be a ‘two-man-show’. From next year I will travel with her for international meets too,” he says.

Meanwhile, Nikhat waxed casual about her silver win. “In Bulgaria, the final wasn’t tough. It was equal and I gave it my all. My next target is to win at the Youth Olympics in China,” she says.