The importance of being Nikhat Zareen

“Do I shop on Twitter? It was my dream to shop on Twitter.” For a brief moment it was easy to forget that the newly crowned boxing world champion Nikhat Zareen was also Generation Z, with a keen eye on social media and a flash of a movie star.

The confluence of the two – the easy ability of a generation still unimportant to speak their opinion and the power of success is a breath of fresh air in India.

India Thomas Cup winning boys proved a point – that it is possible to both fight and play hard and not be flirtatious about both. But despite her aggression in the ring, Nikhat’s victory is more nuanced for inadvertently the years she spent in training, the country spent in walking down a road where people are “identified by the clothes they wear.”

If an activist is arrested because she is a Muslim, if a 14-year-old Muslim boy is forcibly attacked for drinking water, then quite rightly her glory is not without Nikhat’s background.

Sports have no religion, but when divisions are intentional and deep, unpacking those silos may not be as convenient.

Possessing the victory of Nikhat

Can every citizen in the country really own her and her victory? Didn’t we make them Muslims first and Indians last, because false messages from Muslim population threatening ancient civilization are shared mainly by educated people?

Then what right does a collective party have for her, what are they – a Muslim who “has to pay for the looting of the Mughals”. Those with a conscience will feel the anxiety, not surprisingly, most will not.

Like moths to tube light, the media, which incites violence and hatred on most days, has also swarmed around Nikhat, never questioning whether her friends and relatives are also under the mercy of a majority faith that considers Muslims to be the deepest cut.

Sports and body politics are inseparable anyway, ask Sachin Tendulkar, Saina Nehwal or Gautam Gambhir.

Mohammad Shami, however, can warn Nikhat, it only takes one bad day in the office to remind him who “they” are – or not, because he was a T-20 World Cup player. Former cricketer and coach Wasim Jaffer has had his entire career questioned.

It also takes strength to defend such as Virat Kohli found out when he stood up against those trolling Shami. In the case of Jaffer, in addition to Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan, those who did not speak are the first to congratulate Nikhat.

Radius of hope

Hope, however, is the fairy dust, especially when the flames are still hot and the next strike could come against even an old milkman in a murky village. Muslim girls and women are navigating everything from Bulli to Sulli Bai, who tried to ‘auction’ some of them earlier this year.

For those who now live in fear of saying their opinion, Nikhat is more than just a boxing champion. From Salman Khan to misogynistic relatives, her punches are the promise of someone who can walk the distance – not just in her game.

The timing of Nikhat’s victory couldn’t be better, the country needs real heroes. The Bollywood Khans have faded, been silenced and the rest, including sports personalities, can be identified by their copy-paste tweets. The boxer got one thing wrong though, her social media interaction with Salman Khan was more his female moment than hers.

The world champion has shown that she brings more to the table than just her gloves. Her battle for identity was on many levels – whether it was facing Mary Kom or playing a sport in the spotlight of overt patriarchy. It is this confidence of travel that reflects and is far from the banalities heard at Cannes of India on the “peak of greatness”.

The more Nikhat succeeds, the greater the challenges outside the ring.

Nikhat’s story is beyond the sacrifices most athletes and their families make to succeed. She is a Muslim in a country where violence against the community can sometimes be legitimized by a distorted lens of the past, where prices are high but the majority misunderstanding of being in danger is higher.

If anyone can fight the good fight, it is a 25-year-old woman from Nizamabad.

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