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'I represent India, not any specific community': Nikhat Zareen

World Champion Zareen says her focus has now shifted to the CWG 2022

nikhat-zareen-pti Boxer Nikhat Zareen during qualification for the Elite Women Commonwealth Games Trials 2022, at Indira Gandhi stadium in New Delhi | PTI

Nikhat Zareen is on top of the world today. Overcoming years of struggle, prejudice and sheer bad luck at times, she finally won the gold in the 52kg category at the AIBA World Championship last month in Istanbul. She became only the fifth Indian pugilist to do so, and the first since the legendary M.C. Mary Kom won it last in 2018.

It has been a whirlwind tour for Zareen since returning to India, but barely two weeks later, even before she can savour her famous win properly, she was back in the ring for the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games 2022.

Competing in the 50kg category since the 52kg category is not an Olympic event, the Telangana girl managed to seal her place in the Indian team. The euphoria of the World Championship was all but over; the focus is on the next challenge—the CWG 2022 in Birmingham from July 28 to August 8.

Zareen was invited by the Indian Women's Press Corps on Monday morning to meet and interact with its members. The 25-year-old took all questions thrown at her with characteristic ease and poise.

For instance, when asked how she felt when people spoke about her backround and religion more than her achievement as a boxer, she said, “As an athlete, I am here to represent India. Whether I am a Hindu or Muslim doesn't matter. I am not representing any specific community in the competitions.”

It is this poise, perhaps, that has helped her overcome disappointments and challenges in her career. To be pitted against the likes of Mary Kom and compete in same category when the former was at her peak a few years ago, can be daunting. But Zareen persevered and succeeded.

The Mary Kom episode of 2016, expectedly, came up during the interaction though Zareen had said that she has moved on. How difficult was that phase? “It was difficult not just for me but also for other boxers in the same category. But we need to persevere. If Mary Kom was not in my category, then maybe I wouldn't have worked harder and or become a world champion.” As for how it impacted her, Zareen was pragmatic. “I felt bad at that time; she did not shake my hand in the trial after she won. But that happens in the heat of the moment. But I have moved on. Let's forget everything.”

Hailing from a conservative family in Nizamabad, she was encouraged by her father, who is a coach, to take up boxing. “I am lucky to have such a father. He has allowed me to focus on achieving my boxing dreams. People who taunted or discouraged my family from allowing me to box, the same people have been calling my parents up to ask when will I be coming home,” she said.

A huge Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson fan, Zareen is part of SAI's TOPS programme. The World Championship win has got her a Rs 2 crore cash award from the Telangana government and a residential plot in Jubilee or Banjara Hills.

There is, however, little time for her to relax and indulge in watching movies or going out with friends, both of which she loves, as the CWG 2022 is round the corner. Zareen's ultimate aim is to win an Olympic medal and so, everything else can wait. “I need to not just work on my speed and strength but also on how to take on boxers with different boxing styles,” she said, explaining her plan for the 2024 Olympics. She added that while Indian pugilists were no less than other top international boxers, mental strength was lacking. “We have strength and speed. We just need to learn how to handle the mental pressure on a big platform like Olympics.” 


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