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Bihar's karate kid in UNFPA Calendar

Mar 29, 2010

A 19-year-old girl, Asma Parveen, brought fame to her family and village by being chosen for the prestigious UNFPA calendar this year. Her determination to study tilted the balance in her favour, as well as making her the first girl in her community to attain the brown belt in karate.

Muzaffarpur: Sakrisariya in Muzaffarpur district is among the many obscure, backward villages in the state of Bihar. This village would have remained unknown had it not been for the accomplishments of 19-year-old Asma Praveen, who catapulted her family and village to fame by being chosen for the prestigious United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) calendar for this year.

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The UNFPA, which promotes women's empowerment and health, did not choose Asma just because she became the first girl in her community and village to attain the brown belt in karate. It was primarily in recognition of her determination to overcome social and economic hurdles in pursuit of education and succeed, despite all odds.

Born into a conservative Muslim family of limited economic means, Asma was allowed to move out of the house only when she accompanied her elder sister to the local madarsa (school imparting Islamic education).

Among her six siblings, only the eldest of her four brothers studied up to graduation. Although this should have paved the way for Asma, the family was opposed to her studying beyond the five years in the madrasa.

In fact, both her father and elder brothers forbade her from stepping out of the house, asking her to concentrate on household work. Little did they know that Asma's desire to study was so strong that she wouldn't give up until she found a way to fulfill her dreams.

And find a way she did. She would wake up early in the morning, finish all the household chores given to her, and then sneak out to study in the afternoon when her brothers were away. She would make sure that she was back home before her brothers returned from work.

Hunger to study

"I had a hunger to study and I decided that I would do whatever it took to be able do so. I realised that as long as my work at home got done, it would not hurt anyone if I went out to study," says Asma.

Fortunately for Asma, Jagjagi, a learning centre for girls run by Mahila Samakhya (MS) in the village, had an extremely enthusiastic teacher or saheli (as they are called), at the helm of affairs. She encouraged Asma to study and selected her for MS's Mahila Shikshan Kendra in Muzaffarpur where she could pursue higher studies and learn vocational skills at the same time.

According to Rooprani Gupta, the district resource person of the Mahila Samakhya, Muzaffarpur, girls were chosen for this centre on the basis of their educational abilities as well as potential to become a role model and inspire others in their community. "Asma had all these qualities and it was her dogged determination to study that tilted the balance in her favour. Also, since we also teach karate, which we believe boosts their levels of confidence, we thought this would be a good opportunity for her to nurture her talents," points out Gupta.

"When I heard that I was selected for this course, it was a dream come true. But I was afraid that my family would not allow me to go especially, as it is about 23 km from my village. One day, when I found all my brothers in a good mood, I told them about my selection to the Kendra. They didn't agree. When my father heard about it, he too forbade me to go," recounts Asma.

However, she didn't lose heart. She sought the help of the MS teachers to persuade her family. When Poonam Kumari, MS district programme coordinator in Muzaffarpur, found that Asma's family was reluctant, she invited them to visit the Kendra and then take a final decision. It was after Asma's mother inspected the place and was convinced her daughter would be safe, was consent given.

An estatic Asma was so overjoyed that she didn't shed any tears at the prospect of staying away from her family for nine months. "I wanted to study so desperately that I never cried or was homesick. I did go home on holidays but was always raring to come back," says Asma.

Karate attracted her attention

Among the various vocational skills training - like Madhubani and screen painting, candle making, and so on - that was given there, it was karate that attracted her attention. At the end of the nine-month course at the Kendra, Asma became proficient in both karate and her studies. Even after she passed her Class 12 examination with a second division in 2008, Asma continued to pursue karate. Of the eight levels of excellence, Asma has achieved six. At present she is a brown belt with just two more levels to go to become a black belt.

Seeing her remarkable talent, MS drafted her to teach karate and inspire girls studying at the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas. For Asma, who conducted five training sessions, it was also an opportunity to earn money. She received Rs 1,000 for each session. She also received Rs 300 for each training session she held for girls studying in schools run under the National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL). Asma was chosen to interact with students of NPEGEL schools as they, too, build community support for girls' education at the elementary level in educationally backward blocks in the state.

Asma, who deposited her earnings in the bank account, says she learnt the value of saving and banking at the Kendra. "I always wanted to be able to support myself and my family. Thanks to karate, I no longer take any money from my brothers for any of my personal expenses. I also contribute to the household and I paid for my mother's medical bills when she was unwell," says Asma.

Positive changes

Earlier this year she was chosen - along with Nirmala Kumari, the only female deputy superintendent of police in Muzaffarpur - to represent the district at a recent event organised by UNFPA in a girl's college in Patna to promote gender empowerment. 'Sapno ko chali choone' (aspiring to make their dreams come true), was an opportunity for Asma to narrate her experiences. "This was the first time that I was speaking to such a large audience. But I was not nervous. When some of the girls asked me whether I lost hope when my family barred me from studying, I told them it was my determination to be educated that gave me confidence to find a solution. It is not difficult to overcome challenges if one is determined," asserts Asma.

At present, Asma is preparing to give her examinations as a second year student of History Honours at the Mahila Shilp Kala Bhavan College in Muzaffarpur. She plans to become a policewoman like her role model Kiran Bedi, the first woman to join the Indian Police Service. Till then, Asma hopes to inspire other girls from her village and her community to expand their horizons. She visits the village Jagjagi centre every Saturday and helps in teaching the students.

Positive changes have happened within the family as well. Her older brother, Shameen, 27, who had left his studies at a young age to support the family, has begun studying again. Younger sister Razda has done Asma proud by following in her footsteps and being selected for the MS Shikshan Kendra. "Hopefully, she too, will be selected for the UNFPA calendar some day," says Asma.

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