“The boys in my class are scared of me,” Muskan says with a smirk. A resident of Sheikhpur khalsa in Karnal, Muskan has battled several gender stereotypes and odds to live her dream, that of learning “to play Taekwondo”. To this 12-year-old, this martial art form is a game, but the truth is that her story has paved the way for serious changes in norms in her community.
Muskan lives in Sheikhpur khalsa with her uncle and his family that includes his wife and two children – Anjali and Azad. Muskan’s maternal household in Jhajjar had “too many daughters”, so her uncle and aunt brought her here. With that, Muskan became the youngest of the three children in the family. And like how in most households the youngest child is pampered, Anjali and Azad have tried to ensure a comfortable life with good opportunities for Muskan.
In 2022, when Breakthrough India organised sessions at the government secondary school that Muskan studies at, Azad saw an interest in sports spark up in her. He did not waste any time in taking the seventh-grader to the nearest Taekwondo training centre in Gharonda. After that, it was just a matter of time before Muskan got completely taken up by the sport. But here’s the thing – Gharonda is three kilometers away from Muskan’s village and no buses run between the two places.
In 2022, when Breakthrough India organised sessions at the government secondary school that Muskan studies at, Azad saw an interest in sports spark up in her. He took her to nearest Taekwondo training academy in Gharonda. But here’s the thing – Gharonda is three kilometers away from Muskan’s village and no buses run between the two places.
Several research studies have shown that while access to public places, transport and mobility is difficult for people from marginalised spaces in general, for women and girls, it’s even more so. While in the initial few days, Muskan would try to get a lift from someone in the village, she would struggle to come back from Gharonda. Recognizing the problem, her uncle decided to get her a cycle.
“Our relatives, neighbours and friends would mock us saying she’d run away,” recounts Anjali. When Muskan would cycle to
Gharonda and back, about four-five boys would often stand at the street corners and remark, “Ye aaj zaroor maregi!” (She’s going to die today!), recounts Azad.
But Muskan’s determination has paved the way for many other girl children. According to Deepak Kumar, community developer with Breakthrough India, several parents have now come forward with an interest to send their girl children to train as well, inspired by Muskan. This is a huge achievement, especially in a society that is still riddled with conservative and patriarchal norms. Muskan’s family has a big role to play in this development. But to support her in living her dream was not easy for them either.
Several parents have now come forward with an interest to send their girl children to train as well, inspired by Muskan. This is a huge achievement, especially in a society that is still riddled with conservative and patriarchal norms.
We were determined to not let what people say affect us, says Anjali. Not many girls her age get to live their dream and we do not want to come in the way of her academic and career choices, she adds. Anjali, a gritty young woman of 23, has herself been a vital presence in Muskan’s life journey. She has travelled far for work, stayed away from her family and taken a stand for herself in her marriage – she says women and girls should not let fear come in their way. “I want Muskan to commit to everything she has her heart set on and we will do our best to take care of the rest,” she says.
“We will teach her as much as she wants to learn! Muskan wants to become a police officer, but if she were to take up Taekwondo professionally, we will still support her as much as we can. It’s a matter of our honour.,” quips Muskan’s uncle.
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