When Ajay Singh, the President of the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) unveiled the logo of the Women’s World Boxing Championship at the Indira Gandhi stadium, he described it as a symbol of the inner strength of women.
When the player profiles of the squad were being read out, 20-year-old Manisha Maun’s description was heart-wrenching.
Initially refused to pursue a sporting career, Maun had to overcome plenty of resistance.
From her parents refusing to give her permission to pursue a career in sports to facing societal hurdles in Haryana’s conservative outlook towards women, Maun overcame them all and secured her place in the Indian squad along with the likes of five-time champion Mary Kom and Asian Games bronze medallist Sarita Devi.
In an exclusive chat with News Nation, Maun spoke of her early struggles and how it took a switch from volleyball to boxing to bring out the best in her.
“My parents, especially my father, did not give me the permission to pursue a career in sports. I used to initially play volleyball. However, Rajendra Singh sir, my coach, told me to try boxing since there was no volleyball coach in Kaithal. He taught me boxing. I used to train secretly for one and a half years,” Maun said.
However, she could not hold her secret from her parents anymore. After impressing in a local boxing tournament, her name featured in the Kaithal Bhaskar newspaper and her father came to know about it.
Resistance in times of Dangal
In the movie Dangal, Aamir Khan, who essayed the role of Mahavir Phogat, broke several barriers and ensured his daughters, Geeta and Babita Phogat blazed the path in the world of wrestling.
In Maun's case, there would be no filmy fairytale. The resistance was too much.
“I don't know why there is so much resistance even today. I am just not sure. My family used to tell me, 'What will you achieve by going so far'? My brother used to leave me in tears before going away. The neighbours and several acquaintances used to tell my family 'your girl is roaming around the full day without doing any work’.”
Glory in 2013
However, the resistance changed in 2013 when she won the interstate school competition in Haryana. After three to four years of securing silver, Maun finally scaled the summit and got a gold medal.
The win changed two things in her life. First, it gave her acceptance and second, she developed a passion to do something.
“When I won the medal, my father believed that I could achieve something. From that point on, he never stopped me. It was only then I got acceptance. When I got the medal, I was super happy. I did not go overboard with my happiness. I was confident now that I could achieve something,” Maun said.
The win gave her a passion to train incredibly hard for future glory, Maun outlines her work ethic: “The ground, where I trained, is five km away from my house. I used to walk back and forth every day. I would make six rounds of five km each day. It lasted for four to four and a half-years".
"I was so obsessed with training that in the gym, I would train separately for three hours. In the morning, I would train in the ground and in the school. In the afternoon, I would once again train in the gym and in the evening, I would go back to training. My passion had only just increased,” Maun added.
The youngster, who will represent India in the 54kg weight category at the World Championships, is in the same squad as other stalwarts like Mary Kom and Sarita Devi. The mention of their names brings about a sense of awe for the 20-year-old pugilist.
“The way how Mary didi, Sarita didi and Pinky Jangra train, it inspires us to do very well,” Maun said.
Maun’s struggles have taken her this far and the hope now is that she achieves glory on the big stage in boxing.