(February 19, 2022) If ever under attack, Tajamul Islam can defend herself confidently. The 14-year-old gold-winning kickboxer lands powerful punches, delivers deadly kicks, and knee strikes to take down adversaries. With nerves of steel, her long and short range striking techniques, replete with offensive and defensive movements, stun onlookers. The Kashmiri teen kickboxer’s combat skills are incredible. In short, Tajamul is a born fighter.
People used to tell me that girls have to get married, their only place is in the kitchen and not in sports like kickboxing. I felt they were (being) stupid.
– Tajamul Islam
Kickboxing her way into winning tournament after tournament, Tajamul made India proud after winning the Under-14 World Kickboxing Championship in Cairo in 2021. This was the second time she’d won a gold. “I am now training hard to win gold at the Olympics. I am just 14 now, and will be participating in world championships for the next few years,” smiles Tajamul, speaking exclusively to Global Indian. Children from all over Kashmir have taken to kickboxing because of her.
The first Kashmiri girl kickboxer
As the first Kashmiri girl to have represented India and won a gold in 2021, she competed with players from 90 countries. She played four bouts then — two against players from the host country, while her third and fourth were with opponents from France and Argentina, respectively. “My rival was quick in her moves, but I kept my cool, and that led me to victory,” informs the two-time gold medallist, who wore the national flag on her shoulders after winning the championship in Egypt. It was a proud moment for India. As many as 30 players from India participated in various age/weight categories in the mega event.
Born in Tarkpora, a remote village in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district in December 2008, Tajamul was just five when she took a shine to kickboxing. Her first introduction to the sport was when a kickboxing match was organised at school. Thereafter, she watched a few matches on TV, this propelled her interest. One day, while walking back home, she spotted a few youngsters practicing boxing at a local academy and that was the beginning of her kickboxing tryst. “I was instantly drawn to the sport. Like all other sports personalities, I too dreamt of appearing on TV one day. Eventually, I did,” giggles the cartoon-loving teen kickboxer.
Initially, her father Ghulam Mohammed Lone did not give in to his daughter’s kickboxing plea as she was just five. “I pleaded, and even asked my mother to convince him. Finally, he gave me the go-ahead,” recounts the recipient of the Young Achievers Award, 2021. The third of five siblings, her father is a businessman.
Staying on course, despite ridicule
Being a girl, and trying kickboxing was tough. A highly conservative society meant many played spoilsport. Yet Tajamul dedicatedly followed her heart into kickboxing at Ali Sports Academy in Bandipora, under Faisal Ali Dar, a Kashmiri martial arts coach. “People used to tell me that girls have to get married, their only place is in the kitchen and not in sports like kickboxing,” recounts the eighth grader from Army Goodwill School in Bandipora. “I felt they were (being) stupid,” quips the champ. A firm believer in the girls-can-do-better-than-boys mantra, she threw all negativity to the winds. Today, she has silenced her critics aptly.
Grit and hard work saw the teen kickboxer bag her first gold at a state level kickboxing championship (sub-junior category) in Jammu (2015). The same year, she won another gold in the national kickboxing championship (sub-junior category) in New Delhi. In 2016, she won gold at the World Kickboxing championship in Italy. “I have worked hard to reach where I am today. I am flooded with requests from parents, including those who used to ridicule me, to train their daughters,” smiles the teenager, who is also the brand ambassador of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao — a Government of India campaign.
Giving the valley hope
Growing up in the picturesque Kashmir valley, Tajamul’s entire focus is on kickboxing. The valley, which often witnesses violent protests, terror attacks, and border skirmishes, has not dampened her dreams. “If I ever come under attack, I can fight and take down at least five people,” laughs the champ. She credits her coaches Faisal Ali, a Padma Shri awardee and VS Rawat, a kickboxing coach of the Indian team, for training her, and aiding her victories.
When practice makes perfect
A stickler for routine, this teen kickboxer’s practice begins at 5 am. Two hours later, its school, and then by evening, she is ready for another couple of hours of practice. She also finds time to coach and mentor budding kickboxers at the academy.
“Many girls ask me how I manage the tough routine. I just tell them to focus on the game, put in the hard work and set goals,” advises the teenager.
The kickboxing sensation from Kashmir is undoubtedly an inspiration for many girls in the valley. Having launched Haider Sports Academy along with her father in 2019, hundreds of children aspire to become Tajamul Islam. “They saw what I could achieve, now parents want their children to make a career in sports,” she says proudly.
She laments that Bandipora does not have an indoor stadium, saying, “Kashmir can produce great sportspersons as there is great talent here but the government has to provide facilities.” Tajamul was also congratulated by Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha, J&K, on her win last year. Adding sports infrastructure will help Kashmiris be physically and mentally fit, thus overcoming the negativities plaguing the valley, including drug addiction, she believes.
Break bones, and heal them too
Kickboxing apart, she wants to eventually become an orthopaedic surgeon. “I will continue kickboxing but also work towards becoming a doctor. I want to ensure that when I break my opponents’ bones, I can heal them as well,” she giggles. A huge fan of boxers Mary Kom and Lovlina Borgohain, she loves reading, music, and travelling. “I want to represent India and win a gold in the Olympics,” says the kickboxing sensation, who strengthens her core with a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins.
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