By Rayes Afzal
SRINAGAR: Born in the rural world of Drabgam, Pulwama, Syed Rashida Simnani is a 21-year-old Belt Wrestling, Taekwondo and Baseball athlete, with many laurels to her name.
A self-taught sportswoman, Rashida started her career at 17 when she participated at a School level belt-wrestling competition.
“Belt wrestling is a form of martial arts and self-defense in which we have to grab our opponent’s belt and pin him/her down to the mat,” Rashida told Kashmir Observer.
“In 2017, I was selected to a belt-wrestling competition at Pampore Higher Secondary. It was the first time I had ever played the game and almost instantly, I felt attached to it,” Rashida said
“After that, it was all about learning more. Unfortunately, without any belt-wrestling coaches or associations in Kashmir, I ended up watching videos of wrestlers like Sunil Kumar Solanki, Navjot Kaur, Divya Kakran, and others.”
Her zeal to learn paid off the same year as she was selected to represent Jammu and Kashmir at National Belt Wrestling competition in Maharashtra, where she won a Bronze medal.
From there, her will and determination to succeed took her on different paths.
Once back home, her community needed her skills as ‘mysterious’ braid choppers had instilled an atmosphere of fear among the womenfolk.
“The situation was so dire in 2017 that I had to take the initiative of teaching self-defense and martial arts to girls. For 20 days, I was able to work with more than 200-300 girls from 10 different schools in District Pulwama,” she says.
“The girls were so scared that sometimes I would invite them to a health centre and train them on how to best protect themselves in case of an attack.”
Seeing the response of the girl students and their parents, who would accompany them, Rashida felt she could do more as there was a need for Kashmiri women, especially ones from the rural areas, to look up to sports.
“Kashmir is already a tough place for women. I couldn’t teach self-defense any more as it became evident to me that an initiative like this needed the help of the Administration,” Rashida reflects.
Seeing the difficulties presented by a conservative society, teenage Rashida decided to better herself as a sportswoman first.
In 2018, she was selected for National Baseball Tournament at Chandigarh. Later that year, she represented Al Jawad Sports Academy at the 3rd International Taekwondo tournament in Delhi. Competing in the female under-68 kg category, Rashida Simnani bagged the Silver medal for India.
Simnani spent the next two years educating herself, and others, at different levels. While being enrolled as a student of Arts at Women’s College, Srinagar, she also completed a certificate course in Health and Fitness from Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Patiala.
Based on her sporting achievements, she was appointed as a fitness coach at her college on a contractual basis for one year.
“Wrestling is my game. For a girl from rural Kashmir, there are already so many hurdles. Even my parents didn’t support me initially, but seeing my passion and dedication they gradually started recognizing my ability.”
Now, in her final year of graduate studies, Rashida feels that her journey to inspire Kashmiri women has only just begun.
“Girls in Kashmir must be empowered and given freedom of choice so that they can surmount any challenge,” she said. “While sporting stake-holders, like SAI and Sports Councils, must reach out to athletes from rural areas so that their talents don’t go unnoticed.”
With regards to her belt wrestling career and her ambition to teach self-defense, Simnani says, “The government must provide me with a coach or a trainer so that my capabilities as a belt-wrester don’t get wasted.”
“I want to learn further and get more and more qualifications under my belt. I hope someday I will be able to set up my own wrestling club where I can teach girls various forms of martial arts, like self-defense.”
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