On Saturday, when India’s most decorated boxer MC Mary Kom stole headlines after making history by winning her eighth World Championships medal, it was Manju Rani, who silently plied her trade in the 48kg category. Just 19, Manju, who made her debut at the World Championship, punched her way into the final of AIBA Women’s World Championships in Ulan-Ude, Russia with a victory over Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat.
While Mary and company missed their final berth by narrow margins, today came the moment of reckoning for Manju, who went on to win the silver medal today after she fought the biggest match of her career, and went down 1-4 against Russia’s Ekaterinal Paltceva in the final.
In just a matter of ten months, Manju had her fairytale run which took her a long way. In January, in her maiden attempt, Manju clinched the gold medal at the senior national boxing championship in Vijayanagar. It was followed by a silver medal at the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria — also her maiden international outing. Then she went on to win two bronze medals in the India Open and Thailand Open.
Manju, a resident of Rithal in Haryana who will celebrate her 20th birthday later this month, took up boxing at the age of 12 in 2010 after the demise of her father Bhim Sen, a Border Security Force (BSF) jawan who died of stomach cancer. It was through boxing, Manju dealt with her father’s loss and vented out her frustration. Soon it became her biggest mission in life — to be the best in the world.
After Bhim Sen’s demise, it was Manju’s mother Ishwanti who was burdened to take care of the family. She raised her five kids – four daughters and a son – on the meagre pension of her late husband.
Manju’s introduction to boxing was in fact, unplanned. One of her father’s friend, Sahab Singh, had cleared the ground around his fish farm between Rithal and Rurki villages in the Rohtak district, so that kids could play and run. Manju started her boxing career there with just a pair of borrowed gloves and worn-out shoes.
One day in 2012, boxing coach Sube Singh Beniwal visited the ground and observed the girls training, and he was highly impressed by them. He then became a regular trainer of that place, which helped Manju build her game.
Through boxing, Manju came over financial constraints, but the battle for her was still a long-drawn one. She was overlooked two straight years for the Rohtak district team. Manju was devastated but fought back with the help of Beniwal. Even after winning the state championships, Manju was ignored for the nationals.
This made her opt for Punjab. She would go on to win the 48kg gold at the Nationals in Vijayanagarand and qualify for the national camp. It was Beniwal, who helped her secure admission in Lovely Professional University, Phagwara, and she moved to Punjab, a state she represents now. The university offered Manju100 per cent scholarship, including free accommodation, after watching her box in the ring.
With age by her side, Manju makes her dominant presence felt in women’s boxing circuit in the world and following the likes of her predecessors — Mary Kom, Sarita Devi — she aims to become the next boxing queen of India.