girlboxers_280In a corner of Deshapran Shasmal Park in South Calcutta, female boxers gather with their male counterparts every evening. Their club is no more than a concrete lump of a ring, slack ropes, a few loose weights, dusty mirrors and hordes of mosquitoes. Inadequate facilities, to be sure, and no privacy. The boxers train in the park and on the streets against a backdrop of temples, ragpickers and leering looks. If any of these girls win a title – city, state, or national – they will earn the rank of champion, respect and, hopefully, a job.

Among the 14 million inhabitants of Calcutta are Shannu Baby and Shakila Baby, twins of the widowed Shannu Begum, living in the dingy Muslim neighborhood of Ekbalpore. These girls are determined to be boxing champions. But when the fight is over, they just want the opportunity of employment.

This is a story about possibility, of things about to happen – a story that is Muslim India now. The boxing girls are poised to deliver the one-two punch of their goal: to be independent and to break away from their conservative community. That is their dream. And arguably they’ve already succeeded.

David Trattles