Nikhat Zareen, the gutsy girl from Nizamabad, fought her way to the top of the world with her steely determination and unflinching support of her parents
By N. JAGANNATH DAS
In 2014, Mohammad Jameel Ahmed visited Emani Chiranjeevi in Hyderabad accompanied by his daughter, Nikhat Zareen, who by then was making progress in boxing. The reputed boxing coach faced an unusual request from Jameel Ahmed: could he train his daughter at his academy? Until then, the academy had only boys.
Chiranjeevi, known for his scientific training, was at first inclined to refuse but then he became intrigued by a certain hunger in Nikhat’s eyes. He nodded and Nikhat had made her first big breakthrough. But Chiranjeevi clearly warned the fatherdaughter duo it would be a tough task and entail an excruciating grind. The sessions began in earnest. The first thing that Jameel did was to shift from Nizamabad to Hyderabad. He lived in a rented house near the academy. Nikhat was then 18. But she showed a lot of character and discipline in the training. Chiranjeevi was concerned as to how she would withstand the hard blows from the boys. As the training intensified, he saw Nikhat ending up with cuts and
bruises on her face.
“I was afraid and wondered whether I had made a mistake. To my surprise, Nikhat would wipe off the blood stains and get ready for battle again. I would ask whether I should stop the session, but she would just say ‘No, sir’. She did not collapse or throw in the towel at any stage. That combativeness proved to be a big plus point. When she came to show her gold medal on her return from Turkey, I was overwhelmed and had tears in my eyes,” said Chiranjeevi.
The 25-year-old Nikhat silenced her critics at the World Boxing Championships in Istanbul. She outwitted Jitpong Jutamas of Thailand 5-0 in the 52 kg final. Nikhat, who was once ridiculed by M.C. Mary Kom, made a telling statement to become the fifth Indian woman to win a gold in the World Championships. She won five bouts in seven days and all were unanimous wins.
Chiranjeevi credits her father for Nikhat’s success. “The family, particularly her parents (Jameel Ahmed and Parveen Sultana), was a constant support for Nikhat. They were unflinching despite intense pressures, and at the same time they ensured their daughter got the best coaching. She dreamt big, so did the parents. I could see the confidence in Jameel’s face that his daughter would make a big name in boxing. This helped Nikhat to pursue her career in boxing. Such was the support that even when there were some adverse situations, the parents stood like a rock behind the daughter. Living in a rented house and moving away from Nizamabad was a huge step. Nikhat was lucky in many ways to get such support from the parents. Being a girl, and that too choosing to shine in boxing, was a big, calculated risk. But, as they say, fortune favours the brave. Nikhat justified that unflinching support and today she did her parents proud with the world title,’’ said Chiranjeevi. Little wonder that Nikhat spoke glowingly about her parents after her gold medal win. “I was thinking of my parents. Whenever I used to call after my wins, my
mother would be returning after saying prayers for me. Today, the Almighty has made her dreams come true and I am very happy. Everyone knows how supportive my father is also,” she said. Yet Chiranjeevi was least impressed with Nikhat’s bouts at the World Championships. “I was a little disappointed and of course the standard in the competition was below par. Perhaps the news of boxing not being included in Olympics could be a dampening factor. But for Nikhat, it was important to make history.’’
Ever since this Telangana pugilist won her world title in Istanbul, the family homes in Nizamabad and Hyderabad have been flooded with well-wishers and mediapersons seeking interviews. “It was a hectic day on the night of the final and the next day with people coming to congratulate us. It is a nice feeling. It is a proud moment.” said Jameel.
Nikhat is an athlete-turned-boxer. She would accompany her father, who had always been interested in sports, to Collector Ground in Nizamabad. “She had an athletic body and won medals in the 100 m, 200 m and 400 m events in the district meet as a young girl. She would do serious practice sessions but her eye was on the boxing ring, where a few pugilists used to practise under Samsamuddin (father of Hussamuddin, bronze medallist in the 2018 Commonwealth Games). While doing her practice sessions, she asked me casually whether she could take up boxing. I was taken aback—boxing, and for girls, and in a place like Nizamabad! But I agreed immediately and so did my wife. Bolne wale bolte hain (those who wag their tongues will do so), and so I requested Samsamuddin, who was my uncle, to take my daughter under his wing,” recalls Jameel.
For Samsamuddin, it was a new challenge to train a lone girl in the gym. “Nikhat straightaway took to boxing like a duck takes to water. What I liked about her was the stubbornness and attitude. She was full of energy although she was frail. She took to boxing in all seriousness and even beat boys in friendly bouts,” said Samsamuddin.
As a young girl, she first took part in the Karimnagar meet where she won gold. “It was there I felt Nikhat was absolutely serious about boxing. I became more determined that I would go out of the way to help my daughter,” said Jameel. Nikhat began to make tremendous progress and got selected for the Sports Authority of India camp in Visakhapatnam where she trained under I.V. Venkateshwara Rao. “Within three months of taking up boxing, she started winning bouts. At 13, she beat an 18-yearold in the state championship,” said Jameel.
The Nizamabad pugilist hogged the national headlines when she qualified for the Junior World Championships in Turkey in 2011. She won gold. That was a big turning point, which made Jameel shift to Hyderabad to put her under Chiranjeevi’s tutelage. “When she won the Junior World Championships gold, I thought I should now move to Hyderabad,” recounted Jameel.
For Nikhat, the gold at the all-India interuniversity championship while representing Osmania University was the result of grinding training at the academy. “Perhaps the training sessions with the boys made her stronger, fitter and more powerful. She has good technique and is light on her feet. She does a lot of fitness exercises,” said Chiranjeevi. The Tokyo Olympics loomed. But her biggest obstacle was the legendary Mary
Kom. Nikhat sought trials for selection but Mary Kom was upset. She even reportedly commented to a TV channel, “Who is Nikhat Zareen?” Nevertheless, the trials were eventually held in 2019 and the young Nikhat lost badly. Her 2020 Tokyo Olympics dream crashed. She was mocked on social media after the loss. But she has turned the tables since. She showed the world she is champion material with her sterling
performance in Istanbul. “I would dedicate this medal to all my countrymen who supported me throughout my career. Today I am trending on Twitter. It was always my dream to be a trend on Twitter, and to achieve something for my country at the world level is the biggest motivation,” she said. An MBA student at MLRIT College in Hyderabad, she has her head on her shoulders. Two of her sisters are doctors and another is a badminton player. Jameel said they were hurt by Mary Kom’s comments. “But we never had a grudge. She is a legend in boxing. That my daughter won the world title is a big moment for us. We struggled while promoting her career. We are thankful to Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who gave us ₹50 lakh, and the support of his daughter, Kavitha madam (former MP from Nizamabad),” he said.
For Nikhat, it was mission accomplished. Of course, her biggest dream is to win an Olympic medal. “Inshallah, I will work hard like this and try to give my best to win a medal in the Paris Olympics,” she says.