Birhor girls living in the Indian village of Chalkari are learning, as the Deccan Herald delicately put it on Saturday, how to fight “for a better life.” The paper reported that numerous girls living in the village, located in the Dhanbad District, Jharkhand State, have taken up the sport of boxing.
Several sources reported nearly two years ago that Chalkari boys were responding to boxing instruction and appeared to be quite enthusiastic students of the sport. The girls were evidently not far behind.
Two 12-year olds, Malti and Dulali Kumari, along with 19 other girls ages 12 to 14, still clean, cook, and do the other daily chores expected of them in the village. But in the evenings, they put on their boxing gloves and practice their new sport.
Ashtosh Kumar Mairh, representing Samvedna, a self-help group in the nearby city of Dhanbad, notes that the Chalkari girls are in very good condition from their constant physical activity. They catch rabbits, help make ropes, and cook rice for their families. But Samvedna discovered that they also have a lot of determination to succeed.
A short distance from Malti’s house, Suman, another girl, practices in the courtyard of her home. “I will grow up to be a boxer,” she says. “We have the talent that people in the cities do not have.” Malti, Dulali, and Suman made it to the state boxing championships last year with their team, and they are brimming with self confidence. The team won gold medals at the amateur boxing match in the state.
Suman adds that she no longer plays with dolls—she and her friends only have time for boxing in the evenings when the chores of the day are done. The newspaper makes it clear that it was the boxing program for the Birhor boys, started in 2009, that sparked the interest of the girls.
While boxing is now important to the Chalkari girls, they continue to help fabricate ropes and nets, the traditional Birhor occupation. The Birhor used to make ropes entirely from fibers they found in the forests, but now they are scavenging, or buying, used plastic bags that held dry cement. They take strands from the plastic fibers and either spin them into ropes or weave them into nets, which they sell in the local markets.
Paritosh Kumar, the coach who introduced the Chalkari boys to boxing two years ago, is obviously proud of the girls he is coaching. He told the paper that he noticed the natural talent the girls had for negotiating the forests, climbing hills, and weaving nets. “Their wrist strength is immense and we are very impressed. We know one day these girls will make us proud,” he said.