"It was not considered nice for girls to be very outgoing or ambitious in our village", said young Indian boxer Nitu as she recalled her journey after winning a gold on debut at the prestigious 73rd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Bulgaria on Sunday.
But then, she could always count on her father to make it happen for her. Nitu's father Jai Bhagwan was so determined to make sure that his daughter became exactly the outgoing and ambitious one that he put his own career on hold and was fine supporting the family with loans just to be there for her at every stage of her formative career. And the results have been, to put it mildly, quite pleasing.
The two-time former youth world champion, who shone bright with a golden debut at Europe's oldest boxing tournament with a 48kg category gold, hails from Dhanana village in Haryana, some 16km from Bhiwani, considered by many as the spiritual home of Indian boxing. "But it was not considered good for girls to be very ambitious or outgoing in our village, there was societal pressure to be a home body. I wanted to become a boxer after I saw Vijender bhaiya win a bronze in Beijing Olympics in 2008," the 21-year-old told PTI over phone from Sofia.
"It was in 2012 when I decided that this is what I wanted for myself and my father decided that he would do all he can to help me. "So, for nearly four years he went on leave without pay from his state government job and accompanied me to training everyday," she recalled. He did rejoin work after Nitu started showing promise with some excellent performances at the age group international tournaments, including the Asian Youth Championship gold.
"But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and national camps shut down, he was back accompanying me to the Bhiwani Boxing Club for training. He would do road running with me. He made things happen for me and kept my morale up," she said. Nitu is the first sportsperson to emerge from her joint family. "Now my younger brother Akshit has started shooting. So he is the second one," she said. It's a family that has stuck together to support Nitu even if it meant cutting corners in family expenses.
"My tau ji is a farmer and on occasions when my father has been unable to be with me for some reason, he would accompany me to training at the Bhiwani Club. My father had to take loans to make ends meet, all this just to make me something. It is overwhelming," she said. "My mother was scared of me ruining my face with injuries. But she was still supportive. My diet was priority for her and to this date, she does this even though we are three siblings," she added. Nitu has repaid the faith so far. She is only the third Indian woman boxer to win a gold at Strandja.
"With this I feel I am on the right path. It gives me the confidence that I can take on any opponent. And I hope this confidence will help me in making the team for the big events," she said referring to the world championships, and the Commonwealth and Asian Games. She would get very little time to celebrate the triumph in Sofia as the selection trials for the world championships are lined up from March 7 to 9, followed by trials for the Asian Games from March 11 to 13.
"I am very confident of doing well because I have the momentum. The victory here has put me in rhythm and I will make it count," she said confidently. And about the Sunday final that she won rather effortlessly, Nitu said, "Oh, I just had to be patient. She was coming at me but she was shorter and was struggling to reach. I just had to wait and strike and it was done."