The ring is basic: a raised platform with a simple roof in the open air of a park. People come here to walk, children to play, and several visitors stop to watch a group of girls getting ready to train.
The girls are relaxed, unfazed by the attention, wearing loose tracksuits, shorts and t-shirts. They laugh over a shared joke as they lace up their gloves. As the gloves come on a focus takes over and soon they are lined up, under the watch of their coach, Razia Shabnam. Fists up in front of their faces, bouncing on their toes, they jab the air in quick succession. They have come to box.
The girls are raised in a shelter named 'Soma Home' a project run by New Light, Kolkata. New Light is a non-profit community development project and charitable trust based in Kalighat, Kolkata, one of the oldest red light districts of the city. Since 2000, New Light has provided shelter, educational opportunities, recreational facilities, healthcare and legal aid for the children, girls and women in the Kalighat community. In the year 2005, New Light started its first residential facility for young girls at risk. This was necessary to protect the young adolescent girls in Kalighat and other red light districts from being abused and trafficked and therefore 'Soma Home' was established. Razia, the girl's coach, has helped to break the mould.
She was one of the first women boxers in Kolkata. She started following her passion, boxing, way back in 1997. She is now a coach and one of only three international female boxing referees in India, a role that has taken her to Turkey, Russia and Taiwan. Since the last 6 years she has been associated with New Light Kolkata, training and grooming the girls.
Taslima Khatoon and Sangeeta Mondal, are two of Razia's proteges. While Taslima is so far been in two national competitions and is also a Silver Medalist, Sangeeta has fought in national competitions but was defeated marginally. Apart from them Sushmita Mondal, a senior player, Indira Sarkar, Puja Sardar, Diya Mitra, Riya Mitra, Payel Mondal, Farhana Khatoon, Reshmi Paul are all state level players, who played Juniors and Sub-Juniors, and are also winners of number of medals and certificates.
"Women have tremendous potential but do not get the opportunity to bloom due to the social and mental restrictions of a conservative upbringing. Women are also adamant: if they want to do something, they do it. They have the 'brawn' to develop into tough opponents but need encouragement and support." ~ says Asit Banerjee, boxing coach and president of the Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation
For now, Razia has set her sights on training several national champions. If along the way she teaches her girls to land a few punches against a society that tries to keep women down, all the better.