Nikhat Zareen – The Girl Who Fought Back
Nikhat Zareen speaks to The Quint about her journey of becoming India's number one pick in the flyweight category.
The Quint DAILY
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(This story was first published on 12 May and is being republished following Nikhat's campaign at the Boxing World Championships where she has now become the fifth female Indian boxer to win a gold medal)
'David vs Goliath' is a sports analogy used only too often. So, apologies, for using it here to bring to you the story of Nikhat Zareen.
And while my lack of ability to find another metaphor to narrate this strong 25-year-old's story may be ordinary, the young woman who shared her life with us for this video is anything but.
Imagine growing up looking up to only the most successful boxer to ever emerge from India. Wanting to be like her, box like her, win like her. Then imagine, 12 years later, having to fight – on and off the ring – just to be able to compete against her to represent India in your weight category.
That is Nikhat Zareen's story. The girl who fought back.
"In 2019, they told us there will be trials for the World Championship. I was ready to enter the ring and had even finished my warm-ups when someone said there wouldn't be any trials in the flyweight category. That really hit me, I felt like they thought I was such a bad boxer that I didn't deserve a trial," Nikhat told The Quint as she recalled her fight for a shot at proving she was a worthy opponent to MC Mary Kom, the six-time World Championships gold medallist.
Nikhat wrote to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, and eventually, a trial did take place, but for the Tokyo Olympics. She was defeated by a split decision. The fight was ugly, the noise around it even more so, and while the then 23-year-old accepted defeat and wanted to move on to the next challenge, it wouldn't be as easy.
"I never thought people would take it the way they did, that I would be recognised as the girl who 'challenged' Mary Kom. It was just me asking for a fair trial. I didn't ask them to send me to Tokyo directly; I was just asking them to send whoever wins. For me, it was a big thing facing Mary. I have said in many interviews that I look up to her; she's a legend and she's my idol, so why will I want to pull her down so I can rise?" Nikhat told The Quint.
And people trying to stop someone from pursuing their dreams is also something Nikhat is familiar with.
Born to a Muslim family in the Nizamabad district of Telangana, a young Nikhat has had many question her choice of the 'man's sport', but her father Jameel Ahmed ensured that outside noise didn't come in the way of his daughter's dreams.
"As I am a Muslim girl, they didn't like that I took up boxing. We have to wear shorts and sleeveless tops, and at the same time, boxing is known as a male-dominated sport. So, everyone thought that if I got into boxing, I would ruin my face, and break my hands and legs; so then, who will marry me?"
"More than my family, I think they were more concerned about my marriage. But my father never allowed those people's comments to get in my head. He handled all the outside noise. He always told me to focus on boxing and work hard," Nikhat recalls with a smile on her face.
And indeed, 2022 is the year for her to smile, enjoy her boxing, and celebrate her time as India's number one flyweight boxer. Nikhat has won the Indian trials and will represent the country in both the World Championships and Asian Games in her preferred weight category, and having already beaten the Tokyo Olympics silver medallist this year, this brave young 'David' is prepared for any other Goliaths that may come her way.
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