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Wrestling stiff opposition

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Fatima Bano is fighting all odds to continue as a wrestling coach...

Shuriah Niazi

Fatima Bano, 32, is that rare Indian woman who teaches wrestling to young children and teenagers. However, her journey as a wrestling coach has not been an easy one.

Bhopal-based Fatima, who was fond of sports since childhood, won three national medals in kabaddi a male-dominated sport. It was her kabaddi coach who advised her to learn wrestling. However, her parents were very critical of her learning a `man's game'. Fatima went ahead anyway in 1997 and trained as a wrestler in Patiala. She later participated in various national and international competitions and won awards. She learnt all the tricks in wrestling from her coach, Shakir Noor, who encouraged women wrestlers; it was he who encouraged Fatima to take up full-time coaching.

However, her family, which lives in a middle-class, Muslim-dominated neighbourhood, saw no future in wrestling. In 2003, Fatima managed to get some land for an

akhara

(ring) from the government and invited apprentices. The government also gave her Rs 4,000 per month as salary to run the

akhara

. She coaches the children for free.

Fatima admits that women do not get any support from their family in a game like wrestling. Yet her family's opposition and shortage of money have not prevented her from nurturing big dreams.

Currently, 10 teenagers and young children, including two girls, are learning the nuances of the sport from Fatima, who says it feels good to see girls practising in the ring. Women have to constantly fight against odds to take up this sport, which is dominated by men, she adds.

Ansar, 15, Fatima's student, says that he has not only learnt wrestling from her, but has also become more confident as a fighter. Another student, Adib, 16, says he has learnt "hundreds of techniques" from Fatima. "These techniques will be helpful in other countries too."

One of her girl students, Aditi, started learning wrestling only as a self-defence mechanism. But today, she wants to bring laurels to her country in this field. Fatima has also coached players in the US, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

For her friends, Fatima is just like anybody else, except that she maintains a strict routine of exercise, diet and coaching, and is dressed in a track-suit. Her friend, Seema Rehman, says: "What I like about her is the fact that she feels proud to be a wrestler and enjoys her profession."

Fatima is the third among four girls and a son. Her father, Syed Nasirullah, does not want his daughter to continue with the game. "She has earned nothing from this game. She has invested money from her own pocket. She should now settle down like her sisters," he frowns.

Although Fatima was presented with the Vikram Award in 2001 which is the State Government's highest honour in sports not many opportunities have come her way in terms of competitions or assignments. Her monthly salary is not enough to run her

akhara

. She says she can "train the students better if I get more money or help from the government."

Fatima believes that there is ample scope for both boys and girls in wrestling, and is confident that some day she will produce a player of international class from her

akhara

.

Women's Feature Service

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 3, 2006)
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