Six pairs of worn-out boxing gloves lie in a stack, unclaimed. Local coach, Satish Bhatt, who looks after the state-run boxing academy for boys, was paying a visit to the Milind Vidyalaya, a residential school for girls, which is tucked in a down-trodden corner of Akola, a dusty dot in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha district.
The gloves were a token gift from Bhatt; neither the girls nor the school can afford them. But their hands slip into them perfectly. They do away with the uniform, white and navy salwar kameez, change into shorts and T-shirts, confident and comfortable. Despite the limited resources and opportunities, about 50 girls have taken a liking for boxing.
Some do it because it’s a part of school activity, others for some twisted logic. “I like hitting them,” says one, barely four feet, before giggling and turning away from the rest.
The seniors take a slightly serious view. Among them, Priya Sonone, Shital Gaikwad and Priti Ohekar have won medals at the state level in juniors.
Not quite the million-dollar babies, these women were just happy to break shackles. After all, women don’t box.
The story of Bhagwati, a long distance runner from Delhi, also runs on similar lines. “Initially, there was resistance from my parents, but after I started winning at the state and national level, their attitude changed. There was freedom to go out of the house. Being a long-distance runner I have to spend long hours training,” she says.
Her exploits have also got her a job in the Central Industrial Security Force and the 30-year-old marathon runner does not hesitate to say, "Sports has changed my outlook. During my school days, I was reluctant to venture out alone, but not anymore."
Hailing from a conservative joint family in the Kumaon hills, teenaged footballer Swati Rawat had to face the ire of her elders when she expressed a desire to play the sport. Her parents came to the rescue. “Sports has built my confidence,” says Swati, who has twice captained Delhi at the Nationals. The spark is unmistakable. Swati has represented the country at the AFC under-19 tournament and is also a good student.