Burqa Boxers is a documentary about young Muslim women from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds daring to dream a different future for themselves and fighting to make it come true by learning boxing from Razia Shabnam, one of the first Indian female coaches in Kolkata, India.
“Girls are not allowed in many spheres of life, but they still manage to do things. By hook or by crook, by manipulating the system, you can say…” says Razia Shabnam. “Boxing teaches you to stand on your two feet and openly fight for what is rightfully yours.”
Shabnam coaches with the intention that her protégés, especially girls, make something of their lives, learn to respect themselves.
Female Boxing started in the late nineties in India. It is practiced as a sport, not as a profession. Which means the boxers are not allowed to fight for money, the highest honor they can aspire for is to compete at the Olympics. While there is no direct causal relationship between the pursuit of the sport and money, the government reserves jobs in the public sector (banks, railways, police, postal services etc.) for athletes who spend their lives training, honing their skills and representing their state and country.
For the women just joining the sport, a job not only meant individual freedom but also a respite from poverty for their families. But in order to be eligible for jobs, they needed to perform well at the national level, which in turn required good diet, athletic facilities, social and family support. For girls belonging to extremely poor families this was a tall order. Some were able to persevere and continue boxing, while for others marriage was the only option.
Burqa Boxers is the story of three girls, Ajmira Khatoon, sixteen, Taslima Khatoon, sixteen and Parveen Sazda, twenty four, as they apply the lessons learned in boxing to their lives and stand up for themselves. It is about hope, grit and perseverance but above all it’s about learning to look fear in the eye.
It is an urgently needed story especially in the current context of increased conversation about violence against women – not just in India, but in the world. Burqa Boxers adds to the conversation by telling the story of girls who don’t see themselves as victims, but as fighters learning to define their own identity and creating a place for themselves in their own community with the help of role models like Razia Shabnam. It is an inspiring story about heroes fighting to change their own worlds and our as well as a consequence.
The documentary is in the last stages of completion. Award winning filmmaker Alka Raghuram and her team has been working on the project for the last four years, with the support of ITVS (Independent Television Service) http://itvs.org, CNC France, Locarno Filma Festival and Visions sud est. in Switzerland. They have completed the filming and editing and are seeking finishing funds for music, sound design and color grading.
For more information about the project and to contribute towards Burqa Boxers, documentary’s finishing funds please go to Kickstarter: https://goo.gl/Z1TRxO
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