Taboos KO’d by Pak­istan’s mother-daugh­ter box­ing duo


Slim, pow­er­ful, and with an un­wa­ver­ing gaze, 19-year-old Razia Banu jabs at the face of her op­po­nen­ther own mother, a widow in­spired to join her daugh­ter in smash­ing taboos in Pak­istan’s sul­try port city Karachi.

Mother and daugh­ter are both dressed in loose ath­letic gear, with scarfs wrapped around their heads in­stead of hel­mets, as they punch one an­other in an ex­hi­bi­tion bout at the Pak Sha­heen Box­ing Club in Lyari, Karachi’s most restive and sporty-neigh­bour­hood.

Banu was drawn into the ring last year, af­ter watch­ing the grand funeral of leg­endary boxer Mo­ham­mad Ali. He was “my favourite per­son­al­ity”, she told AFP af­ter “los­ing” to her mother, point­ing with a smile to a small framed poster hung on a pil­lar that read Ali’s famous “Float like a but­ter­fly, sting like a bee”.

She went to her mother to seek per­mis­sion to join the club, started just last year, the first for women in all of Pak­istan. Haleema Ab­dul Aziz wor­ried about her daugh­ter’s re­quest. There were fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions-her hus­band had passed away five years back, and she was strug­gling to af­ford even school fees for her chil­dren.

And then there was Pak­istani so­ci­ety. Deeply con­ser­va­tive and Mus­lim, it has seen women fight for their rights for decades-and, some­times, in a coun­try where acid at­tacks and hon­our killings are still com­mon­place, their lives. The vi­o­lence weighs on Aziz. “I be­lieve that all the males be­come beasts when a wo­man goes out alone from her home,” the 35-year-old sin­gle mother says.

“But I did not dis­ap­point her (Banu) be­cause I wanted her to be suc­cess­ful in her life.”

Her hus­band was a good man who en­cour­aged his daugh­ter to take part in sports, she says. Yet Banu echoes her mother’s wari­ness when it comes to men and vi­o­lence. “Males think that they are strong so they could beat fe­males and force them to be con­fined to the home,” she says. “But I think that when you have strength you should pro­vide safety to peo­ple in­stead of beat­ing them.” Her pas­sion-and pen­chant for prac­tis­ing at home­soon in­spired her mother also, who fol­lowed her daugh­ter in join­ing the club.

Banu leaves home early ev­ery morn­ing for her job as a re­cep­tion­ist in a school, be­fore go­ing on to col­lege, where she stud­ies com­merce.

She reaches the box­ing club in the evenings. There she drills: punch­ing bags and bal­loons, skip­ping rope, then prac­tise bouts with some of the other 20 young girls who make up the club.

The club is sparse, its fa­cil­i­ties com­pris­ing the ring, three punch­ing bags, and a box­ing bal­loon in a cor­ner. Money, says the club’s founder and coach Yunus Qan­barani, is tight: few of the boxers can af­ford to even pay their fees.

“We don’t even have a proper chang­ing room for the girls to put their kit on. We don’t even have the right rub­ber mount­ing on the ring ropes,” he says.

Then there is the so­cial back­lash. “At one point, some peo­ple plot­ted to at­tack the club to force me to close it down. But I am de­ter­mined to carry on,” he says.

Qan­barani, who has been a box­ing coach for 40 years, has sent his own two daugh­ters and other women from his fam­ily to be trained at the club.

“I want our daugh­ters to go to the in­ter­na­tional level and hoist the Pak­istani flag in for­eign lands,” he vows. Pak­istan’s box­ing com­mu­nity agrees, with for­mer boxers who com­peted in­ter­na­tion­ally vis­it­ing the club reg­u­larly to of­fer en­cour­age­ment.

“We don’t have a dearth of tal­ent in Pak­istan,” says Sher Mo­ham­mad, who took a bronze medal at the 1993 Asian Games. “We im­pro­vise and use al­ter­na­tives to make up for our lack of re­sources.”

The sup­port in­spires Aziz and Banu to new heights. Aziz plans to be­come good enough to coach girls her­self one day. Banu aims even higher.

“I wish to box in the Olympics-and not just par­tic­i­pate, but to win the gold,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “I will keep striv­ing for my goals. The hard work does not go waste.” —AFP

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