Fatima Bano, 32, is the only woman in the country who has been teaching the finer points of wrestling to young children and teenagers.
Bhopal-based Fatima's journey to being a wrestling coach has not been an easy one. Fatima was fond of sports since childhood. She won three national medals in Kabaddi - a group sport usually played by men in India. After seeing her game, Fatima's coach advised her to learn wrestling. When Fatima told her parents about this, they were very critical that a woman was learning a `man's game'.
But in 1997, Fatima went ahead anyway and trained as a wrestler in Patiala (a city in Punjab). She later participated in various national and international competitions and won a few awards. Despite the medals, Fatima's family was not comfortable with her passion for wrestling.
Fatima learnt all the tricks in wrestling from her coach Shakir Noor, who believed that the motivation and will power of a person could help the person attain anything. Noor encouraged women wrestlers and did not consider them any less than male wrestlers. Noor's encouragement inspired Fatima to take up coaching full time.
Again, this was easier said than done. Fatima's family, which lives in a middle class neighborhood dominated by Muslims, didn't approve of the decision. They saw no future in wrestling. But 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. Fatima coaches the children for free.
Fatima admits that women do not get any help or support from their family when they try to come forward 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 wrestling from Fatima. Fatima says she feels really good when she sees girls practicing in the ring. Women have to constantly fight against odds to take up this sport which is dominated by men, she says.
Fatima's students describe her as a good teacher. Her male student, Ansar, 15, says that he not only has learnt various techniques of wrestling from Fatima, but has also become more confident as a fighter. Another student, Adib, 16, says he learnt hundreds of techniques from Fatima. "These techniques will be helpful not only in India but in other countries as well." One of her girl students, Aditi, started learning wrestling only as a self-defence mechanism. But today, after Fatima's intensive training, she wants to bring laurels to her country in this field. Aditi feels one day she will make a name for herself.
Fatima has also coached players in the US, Kazakhstan and Krgyzstan.
For her friends, Fatima is no different from other young women, just that she maintains a strict routine of exercise, diet and coaching. And often, she is dressed in a track suit. Her friend Seema Rehman says: "What I like about her is the fact that she feels proud of being a wrestler and enjoys her profession."
Fatima's is the third daughter among four girls and one son. Her father, Syed Nasir Ullah, does not want his daughter to continue in this way. "Fatima has earned nothing from this game. She has invested money from her own pocket. She should now settle down and begin a family life like her sisters." Her family says that despite all the hard work Fatima has put in, the game has not been supported at the national or state-level.
Although Fatima was presented with the Vikram Award in 2001 - which is the state government's highest honor in the field of 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," I can give better training to these students if I get more money or help from the government."
Fatima believes that there is ample scope for both boys and girls in wrestling. However, success in the sport comes only after long years of hard work and the urge to achieve something. Fatima believes that one day she would produce a player of international class from her own local akhara.