I grew up in a small town in India and have experienced the societal pressure to conform to the “right way” of being a girl for my own safety. It not only instills fear of the world, but also corrodes one's self confidence in dealing with it. For me personally, It's been a life long journey to recognize the conditioning and chip away at it.
I empathize with the characters in Burqa Boxers and want to cull out the mixture of qualities, awareness, grit and courage, it takes to challenge and defy these expectations. In the current context of increased conversation about sexual violence against women in India, where as per statistics a woman is raped every twenty minutes, and female feticide has skewed the male –female ratio to 10: 8 in some areas. While the increased dialogue about violence raises awareness, news stories of rape and violence also validate the patriarchal view that the only safe place for women is their home, reinforcing the status quo.
In Burqa Boxers I want to tell a story of girls attempting to take charge of their lives, of daring to dream, and learning to make them come true, and of role models from within the community who provide leadership and guidance. As Shabnam points out "Even a stumble is a step in the right direction."
As a storyteller, I want to honor this "stumble", a first baby step towards empowerment, in the hope that it inspires many others.
As opposed to professional boxing, which is a remunerative business, boxing is practiced only as a sport in India. The highest achievement an athlete can hope for is to win a gold in the Olympics. While there is no direct causal relationship between the pursuit of the sport and money, the government reserves jobs in the public sector (banks, railways, police, postal services etc.) for athletes who spend their lives training, honing their skills, and representing their state and country.
About fifteen years ago, women's boxing started in West Bengal, In India. Mr. Asit Banerjee, the president of the West Bengal Boxing Federation and general secretary of the Indian Boxing federation, along with a couple of other coaches, namely Mehrajuddin Ahmad and Sujoy Ghosh and Jamil Alam, trained the girls . These were girls who had never won anything, had never been allowed to, and suddenly the sky was their limit. Not only was there a hope of earning an income, there was also a way of becoming physically strong, tough enough to deal with the prevalent misogyny in their society. But as the girls grew up, grown-up questions of self-sufficiency started to raise their head. They were from extremely poor families, and keeping their passion alive meant unbearable expenditure. To be strong athletes, the women not only needed societal support, but also basics like good diet, equipment, and a safe place to train. For the girls whose families could not afford these expenses without state support, there were only two choices, find a job or get married.