Having been widely discouraged for choosing powerlifting as a sport in a patriarchal society like Kashmir, Arifa Bilal who received the title of “Iron lady” in powerlifting by winning two gold medals in the 4th National Powerlifting Benchpress and Deadlift Championship held at Assand, Haryana. With that, Bilal has proved her critics wrong and made the people of Kashmir proud.
Arifa Bilal, 24, is breaking all stereotypes in Kashmir and is gearing up to fight crime against women in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
Over the last two years, the crime against women has tremendously increased in Kashmir. The authorities are on their toes to root out these crimes, but Arifa Bilal on her own, has opened up a gym training center for women, with the aim of preparing them to face challenges in the male-dominated society.
For years, Arifa was wondering how to empower women to fight against crimes in Kashmir. Two years ago, she decided to open a gym center to train young girls in self-defense.
“Opening up a gym center is not an easy job for women in Kashmir, I was widely criticised by all sections of society, but my family members stood shoulder to shoulder with me,” Arifa said to Feminism In India.
It was not an easy journey for Arifa. Supported by none in her vision, she said that nobody turned up to her center in the first month because of the deeply entrenched patriarchal notions against women’s mobility in what is traditionally seen as a space for hypermasculine expressions.
However, it didn’t affect Arifa’s dream and she continued to stay rooted to her mission.
Just when Arifa’s will was fading considering the lack of a positive response, she took part in the powerlifting championship organised by Raw Powerlifting Federation India in January and broke the national record by lifting 130kgs in the under 55kgs weight deadlift category for women in the championship. She also lifted 47.5kgs in bench press championship wherein about 500 powerlifters from across the country had participated.
Arifa observed how generall only men are seen as taking part in powerful lifting in Kashmir. “Society has never allowed us to do these activities. As I became the first woman in powerlifting by bagging a gold medal, more women are coming forward in this patriarchal society where criticism is at its peak, “ said Arifa.
With these consecutive wins, she has now qualified for the International Powerlifting championship scheduled to take place in the U.A.E. in April 2022.
Arifa says that she is hoping for a gold medal in the international powerlifting championship in Dubai. She is training with her coach Akhtar Wani regularly as she works to fulfil her dream.
“There is a massive potential among the youth of Kashmir but parents should be more supportive when it comes to the career choices of young women. Children should be allowed to chase their dreams without any hindrance, especially girls,” she said.
Arifa began her journey in 2012 to learn sqay martial arts under the coaching of Saleem Pathan. Under his guidance she participated in various championships and won many awards.
Aa Arifa set record with her powerlifting, more and more women are now coming to her gym center for training and for upkeep of general physical fitness. “My gym center has eradicated many stereotypes in our society,” she says.
Arifa said she is highly indebted to her parents and family members who have been supportive of her endeavours. It makes me really proud and immensely happy that girls are no longer seen as a burden in Indian families.
It is not just Arifa Bilal, but her mother, Habla Bano, too who believes in the empowerment of women. As she sends blessings for all mothers of Kashmir, she urges people to not shut off the dreams of their daughters and to make space for them to grow up to be independent women in a patriarchal society.
Since her childhood, Arifa has had a keen interest in martial arts. Currently, she is doing graduation with a government degree college in Ganderbal. In addition to pursuing education, she also encourages young girls to take part in physical activities and take up self-defense courses such as martial arts.
After seeing Arifa’s interest and achievement in sports, she was also offered an opportunity as a trainer at one of the district gym centers.
Despite authorities spending a hefty amount of money on developmental projects, not a single penny was given to Arifa’s gym center, considering it is a visionary step in the direction of encouraging women to fight against crimes.
“I didn’t have a penny in my pocket when I was selected for Nationals in Powerlifting but managed somehow and decided to travel to Haryana by road. The highway was shut due to ill weather conditions and as a result, I returned,” she said.
While crime cases in Jammu and Kashmir have increased by 15 percent since January 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs this year noted that the conviction rate in crime against women cases is just 3.4 percent in Jammu and Kashmir. Over the last two years, Kashmir has also witnessed an increase in acid attacks on women.
“It’s high time for women to get trained and defend themselves from such attacks. I am not the only trainer at my gym center, but being a martial art athlete, self-defense training is imperative in this regard. I have been successful so far,” she concluded.
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All images as provided by the authors.