A 17-year-old boxer, Rehnuma Mikrani, is kicking all odds one punch at a time to teach yoga to about 40 women of her community in Haldwani town of Nainital district.
Hailing from a humble family background, Rehnuma is the daughter of an autorickshaw driving father and a mother who works at a local Anganwadi centre. A state-level boxer, Rehnuma decided to teach yoga and other exercises to the women in her community about one and a half month ago during the lockdown.
She began by teaching yoga to four women and now has a batch of around forty women of her community who come together every morning in the local playground.
However, the initiative was not an easy one to start as she and the other women had to face all sorts of odds including criticism from some members of the community and lewd comments from local boys.
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Rehnuma, who has been training at Sports Authority of India’s day-boarding extension centre for boxing in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, said, “It all started in July when my mother and few other women asked me to teach them yoga and other exercises as being a sportsperson, I was trained in such things.”
“I was at home during the lockdown but I tried to continue my regular workout at a nearby sports ground. There, I saw a few Muslim women doing some basic exercises near their houses but not in a proper way. I discussed it with my mother who then said asked me to teach it to teach them since I am trained in it. I agreed and then five of us, my mother, three other women and I, started practising in the playground where I used to go,” said Rehnuma.
The small group then started gathering early at 5.30 am to practise yoga and other exercises till 7-7.30 am.
Rehnuma said that it was not at all an easy for them initially as “men would stop on their way just to stare at them”.
“Not only they would stop to see what we are doing but some also used to pass lewd comments and body shame us, saying, “Look at these ladies… what they are doing? They rather sit at home”. Initially, we didn’t pay heed to them but when it crossed a limit, my mother and I confronted them after which they stopped passing comments,” she said.
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Rehnuma’s mother Shabnam who has been supporting her from day one, said, “Not only random people at the ground but some local Muslim scholars also objected”
“After seeing us, more women started joining us later and the number reached forty. However, this also drew an objection from some local Muslim scholars. They didn’t confront us directly but would raise their objection before the men of our community that we should not do this in public, rather sit at home as it is against the customs and all…,” said Shabnam.
“However, we didn’t stop going there to practise yoga as we knew we would face such hurdles. And we were doing all this for our health and fitness,” she added.
“Among 40 women, some are as young as 14 while some are over 45. We gather every morning as a family and practise yoga with full dedication. In fact, we have also bought a small speaker after pooling money to play music during yoga. We all really enjoy it and don’t bother about criticism now,” said Shabnam.
Many women come in Burqa to practise yoga.
Samreen Khan, 23, who has been with Rehnuma since the start and is also a trained yoga practitioner, said, “Belonging to a society where women are not allowed to move freely and are expected to be in veil or burqa, we decided to teach these women yoga in burqa only.”
“Most of the women are practising yoga with us in burqa and they have absolutely no problem with that. They say, by doing so they are able to uphold the customs and practise yoga also for their health and fitness,” said Samreen.
She said initially many women were hesitant in joining them but once they joined they were able to understand the benefits of yoga.
“Many of them suffered from health issues like blood pressure or joint pain and didn’t know what to do. Now, after joining our group, they have learnt many yoga asanas and exercises which are helping them improve their health,” said Samreen.
The initiative has been appreciated by many prominent members of the community.
SMA Kazmi, social activist and a political expert based in Dehradun, said, “What these women are doing is highly appreciable. What Rehnuma is doing is for the health and fitness of women in our community which makes it all the more important and praiseworthy. There are several restrictions on women in our community but she has braved them all to teach them yoga. This is what should be appreciated by all,” said Kazmi.
Another social activist from Haldwani, Tanuja Joshi, too hailed Rehnuma for her efforts and said, “What she is doing is beneficial for the health of these women. Yoga is above any religion and keeps people fit”.