The Birhors are one of the most backward tribes of Jharkhand. They are nomads and depend on the forests for their livelihood. Most Birhor children do not have the benefit of gaining an education. Poverty is the only way of life they have known. The girls of this community spend their days cooking for the male members of the family or taking care of their young siblings or assisting the elders to make ropes out of the barks of the trees.
But Malti and Dulali Kumari are different. Though the 12-year-olds still cook and clean and contribute to all the other daily chores in their homes in the remote village of Chilkari, they are role models for other girls in the community for being able to fight for a better life. Both girls have donned boxing gloves and are state amateur champions. Just last year their team won the gold medal in the state boxing amateur championship in Jamshedpur.
The children of Chikari neither have access to basic amenities nor education nor adequate food, so how did Malti and Dulali make it to the boxing ring? The young women were persuaded to take up boxing after the boys of this hunting community started showing interest in taking up boxing to further their hunting skills.
“It was by sheer persuasion that the girls picked up the boxing gloves, and we insisted because we found that their good physique and wrist strength was apt for the sport,” reveals Ashutosh Kumar Mairh of Samvedna, a self-help group of young teachers and students of Dhanbad that has been instrumental in bringing about this much-needed change along with the Dhanbad District Amateur Boxing Association (DDABA), which has been training the girls along with the boys of the community.
Today, Malti, Dulali, their friend Suman and 18 other girls in the age group of 12 and 14 aspire to be successful professional boxers bringing glory to their families and the community.
After Malti, Dulali and Suman made it to the state championship they have become quite the local celebrities. But even as they bask in their new-found glory they continue to get up early in the morning to cook, and work through the day to complete the various household chores. But nothing can stop them from putting a few hours of boxing practice.
Mairh, the man behind introducing these girls to the local boxing association, says, “It was the plight of these neglected but hard working people that led me to believe that they have it in them to change their lives for the better.”
The recent accomplishments by the local girls have also spurred the community to become a part of the mainstream. While earlier they had only been looking for new areas to hunt and find jungles to continue their traditional rope making, now they are keen to be distinguished in the field of boxing.
Besides the possibility of lucrative career in the future, boxing has given the girls another gift – a shot at education. After their participation in the tournament last year they have been able to get enrollment in the nearby residential government school, Indira Awas Ballika Vidyalaya. And the community too has derived a variety of benefits – roads are now being built to Chilkari village at the initiative of the local administration and the men are finding jobs under the government’s rural employment programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Not only have the girls have managed to knock their way out of an impoverished existence but also spelled change for their community.