‘Role mannequin’: Pakistan’s Hazara lady packing a punch

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Karachi, Pakistan – Kulsoom Hazara clutched her medal tightly as Pakistan’s nationwide anthem performed inside a sports activities enviornment within the Indian capital New Delhi.

The 27-year-old karateka from Pakistan had delivered a knockout blow to her Indian opponent to win her first worldwide medal – a gold on the 2016 South Asian Karate Championship.

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She couldn’t maintain her tears as she remembered her slain mentor and brother-in-law Sarwar Ali Hazara, who was shot lifeless in 2005 in what gave the impression to be a sectarian assault.

Kulsoom is from the Hazara minority neighborhood, which has confronted persecution in Pakistan. At least 1,500 Hazaras have been killed in sectarian assaults because the late 1990s, in keeping with figures maintained by a non-profit Hazara organisation.

But in keeping with Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights determine out there from 2012 to 2017, greater than 500 Hazaras had been killed in Quetta between 2012 and 2017.

Pakistan is home to greater than half one million Hazaras, most of whom reside in Balochistan province bordering Iran.

Media highlight

Last November, Kulsoom was within the media highlight after profitable a silver and a gold medal in particular person and group occasions respectively on the South Asian Games in Nepal. Her beaming smile regardless of receiving a blow that broke her nostril endeared her to an in any other case cricket-mad nation.

She has additionally grabbed a gold medal on the 2017 South Asian Karate Championship held in Sri Lanka and picked up a bronze on the 2010 South Asian Games held within the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Kulsoom resumed her coaching at a karate membership run by Ali within the port metropolis of Karachi. Ali was her guardian since she had misplaced her dad and mom as a baby.

The worsening safety scenario in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, had compelled Ali to move to Karachi within the 1990s.

Ali launched her to karate as a baby whereas she was nonetheless based mostly in Quetta. “I was five and didn’t even know how to tie my own belt when my brother-in-law held my hand and took me to my first karate lesson in Quetta,” Kulsoom advised Al Jazeera at her membership in Karachi.

“I misplaced my mom to most cancers after I was two. My father died 5 years later. Fearing for our lives and livelihood, my brother-in-law determined to carry us to Karachi.

“I wasn’t always very passionate about karate but my brother-in-law knew I could be a champion so his encouragement pushed me to do better.”

A promising athlete

Kulsoom made a mark as a promising athlete when she received three gold medals in 2000 at provincial tournaments. Two years later, she received a bronze within the nationwide karate championship held in Lahore.

“It was after winning a national medal that my interest in karate grew,” the 27-year-old athlete advised Al Jazeera.

Pakistani woman karate champion [Shameen Khan/Al Jazeera]

Kulsoom made a mark as a promising athlete when she received three gold medals in 2000 at provincial tournaments [Shameen Khan/Al Jazeera]

She attained nationwide fame after profitable her first nationwide gold in 2005. And her medal glory at nationwide stage continued almost uninterrupted till 2019, an unmatched feat in Pakistan, the place feminine athletes are few and much between.

“Once I received my first nationwide gold, my brother-in-law set his sights on making me a world karate champion for Pakistan.

“Sadly, he couldn’t live to see it happen. He became a victim of the vicious campaign against our community,” stated Kulsoom with a tremble in her voice.

“When we moved from Quetta, we thought we left behind the fear and violence that crippled our lives. But it followed us to our doorstep in Karachi.”

In 2005, Ali was on his approach again home after coaching his karate college students in Manghopir space of Karachi when he was shot lifeless. She stated unknown males had threatened Ali and advised him to give up coaching Hazara youngsters.

“I used to be fixing the living room curtains after I heard an announcement from the neighbourhood mosque that my brother-in-law had died. It struck me like lightning. I fell off the chair, grew to become unconscious and spent the night time on the hospital.

“I had misplaced my mentor, my coach, my guardian.

“He was a very selfless man and felt it was his responsibility to pass on this art to as many children as possible, and not just those from our community.”

Determination to struggle

Kulsoom’s life turned the other way up as Ali’s karate membership of their neighbourhood of Gulistan-e-Jauhar was shut down.

However, as a substitute of turning her again on karate, Kulsoom emerged from the disaster decided to maintain on preventing and fulfil her mentor’s dream.

“I started training at home, in my room,” she stated.

“I didn’t have access to YouTube or online coaching and I couldn’t learn anything new. I tried to improve whatever techniques I knew, improve my speed and improve my physique.”

Backing from the Sindh province officers helped her proceed her coaching.

At the 2005 Islamic Women’s Games in Iran, which noticed participation from 44 international locations, Kulsoom did not win a medal. But the defeat didn’t dampen her ambitions.

She resumed coaching at a karate membership run by Abdul Hameed, the secretary of the Sindh Karate Association, who additionally took over as Kulsoom’s coach and mentor after Ali’s homicide.

The membership was positioned in Lyari, part of Karachi recognized for producing boxing, karate and soccer stars but additionally infamous for gang wars which made it a digital no-go space from 2008 to 2014.

Even on the peak of the violence, Kulsoom continued to practise on the membership – a run-down place with naked minimal services, squeaky wood flooring, cracked partitions and inadequate lighting.

“Kulsoom is a role model for every kid, be it a girl or a boy, who comes to this club,” coach Hameed advised Al Jazeera as his college students crammed in for his or her every day night observe.

As the scholars gathered in a formation for a warm-up and coaching session, Kulsoom positioned herself on the entrance to guide the group. Two younger males, on both facet, waited for her cue.

“She lost her parents, her hometown, even her mentor, but she never stopped training. Even at the height of violence in Lyari, she would make the 50km round trip just for her training,” Hameed stated. 

“Forget about girls, so many boys who started playing at the same time as Kulsoom have quit karate but she’s is still here, still winning medals and still making us proud.”

With a chuckle, Hameed added: “When she enters the ring she’s like a tigress. She knocks down opponents within minutes. Sometimes I have to ask her to be a little considerate of her opponent.”

In addition to profitable medals, Kulsoom accomplished a grasp’s diploma in bodily schooling from the University of Karachi.

Following in Kulsoom’s footsteps, a number of martial arts and sport champions have emerged from Quetta’s Hazara neighborhood over the previous 10 years.

Nargis Hameedullah and Shahida Abbas have received medals in Karate on the Asian and South Asian Games lately.

Sitting by a big glass show unit crammed together with her medals, trophies and photographs of her late mentor, Kulsoom stated that she feels immense pleasure at being launched as a task mannequin for all younger Pakistani women, and never simply these from the Hazara neighborhood.

She additionally recalled how, again within the 1990s, she was made enjoyable of and her household was regarded down upon for educating martial arts to a lady at an all-boys karate membership.

“Now, whenever I go back to Hazara Town, I’m presented with bouquets and garlands and receive invitations to girls’ schools and karate clubs,” she stated with a smile.