Nikhat Zareen – A Champion in the Ring of Life
On Thursday, Nikhat Zareen clinched a gold medal at the Women's Boxing World Championship.
Sport, as they often say, is a trivial pursuit. But on the rare occasion that a human being lives and dies through sport, it turns into a serious existential battle.
Nikhat Zareen fought as many battles outside the ring as she has inside it. Some of them, perhaps, were significantly more painstaking than the punches to her sturdy jaws. But despite the constant blows to her resilient mind, the tenacious boxer showed us that she was an equally resolute human being.
So, as her chest heaved with elation and tears streamed down her bruised cheeks last night at the end of a typically robust effort in the ring, they weren't a sign of weakness. They were, in fact, flowing from her ocean of belief, glistening beads of her mental strength and obstinacy. The tears were a rich tribute to her journey into womanhood after a journey through the rough woods of Indian boxing.
It was a grand moment of release, freedom, and exultation. The moment in which Nikhat may have felt like she finally had the licence to pursue her passion and dreams with authority. Validation can be cathartic. And Nikhat Zareen was soaked in a mountain of it, under the guise of a newly minted 52kg World Champion.
Among Champions at Last
Nikhat Zareen is the World Champion in the 52kg category of the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships. This girl from Telangana swept her way to the title, winning each of her bouts with a 5-0 verdict from the judges. The Championship put her in elite company.
Only four other women had won the World title for India and only Mary Kom (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2018) had done it overseas. Sarita Devi (2006), Jenny RL (2006), and Lekha KC (2006) are the others. Nikhat had long dreamt of inhabiting the tribe, and finally, on Friday night, she found her home among champions.
As familiar a dream as that might be, it took eleven long years since her emergence into the lights as the World Junior Champion in 2011.
Those eleven years were a constant struggle; not that honing the skills she needed – the nimble feet, steady arms, the power in her punches, and a strong torso – were not hard enough. Nikhat has been in the news for her constant battle for space and opportunities to express her unquestionable talent, as a needlessly obliged federation continued to pander to the needs of Mary Kom.
Mary remains a legend and deserves her dues. Only it need not have come at the expense of a clearly promising fighter with the guts, skills, and the hunger to succeed at the highest levels of her sport.
Fighting the System
Indian boxing may have almost lost one of her finest boxers to the drama that preceded the selections to the team for Tokyo 2020. Nikhat had to box many shadows in her effort to secure a ticket to the Olympics, and when she could not force her way inside the team, the disappointment surrounding herself, family, and friends nearly put paid to her dreams.
Amidst the familial pressure for walking away from it all and the dark scars from fighting an entire system – just to establish her identity – Nikhat had to endure far more pain outside the ring. But perhaps, these battles strengthened her resolve and toughened her nerves.
Fortunately, though, Nikhat put her spine on the line, standing up to her conservative family. She had to wash herself from the negativity that followed disappointment and dodge the bullets of marriage, in the pursuit of her craft.
"There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears between dreams and success, Embrace it all💫🙌🏻," urged the champion boxer in an Instagram post this April.
While she will now turn her attention to the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, her sights are set on Paris 2024. With plans to move into the 54kg category for Paris, Nikhat and her team will have another full plate of challenges to deal with.
The recalibration of strength, speed, and power as she gains those additional kilos will be another examination of her adaptive resilience. But unlike in the past, the World Champion can now expect greater support and acknowledgment of her endeavour. That might be reward enough for her to chase new dreams.
Nikhat's triumphant run in Istanbul is as much a victory for her boxing as it is for her tenacity and determination to blossom as the human being she desires to be.
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