The karate sisters | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 16, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:15 PM, January 16, 2021

The karate sisters

At a time when the public conscience is gripped by fears over women's security, three sisters from a remote village in Lalmonirhat decided to take up matters in their own hands.

In a bid to secure their safety, they've not only learned martial arts themselves, but are spreading the art of self-defense to others in their area -- a remarkable feat, considering their family's tight financial situation.

"Our family is poor, it's hard for us to even afford education. So we practise at home, every day, to develop our martial arts skills," said Jannati Khatun, the eldest of the three.

Jannati is an honours third-year student at Lalmonirhat Government College. It's located some 14km away from her family's homestead, which she has to cover by cycling. She was the one who first learned the craft and proceeded to teach it to her younger siblings.

It all happened when a Taekwondo teacher from Dhaka's Cambrian College came to Jannati's college to teach them martial arts. Sharker Rani Roy, the sensei, visited the college in 2017 on two three-month term and trained them within that time. Jannati ended the training period with a Red Belt, which in Taekwondo is just below a first-degree Black Belt.

Khadizatul Kobra Moni, the middle sibling, is currently in her first year of HSC at a college 12km from home. With the help of her sister, she has already ranked up to a yellow belt. The youngest, Fatema Yasmin, is a student of class five starting out with her own training.

Their mother Rasheda Begum is a pre-primary teacher at a school run by Brac, while their father Jafar Uddin works as a day labourer. In their homestead of four-decimal land in Kisamat Chandrapur village of Aditmari upazila, all five of them live under two tin-shed rooms.

Despite their struggles, the sisters at least have peace of mind. Khadizatul said they now feel safe to cover the long routes to their schools and colleges.

Following their example, girls from their village now come to them to learn martial arts. "Everyone should learn martial arts. It could serve as an inspiration for a safer and better life," she added.

"Martial arts is more than just a self-defense tool, it keeps the body and mind fresh and strong too. It's never an obstacle for any kind of work, but makes them more dynamic," chimed in Jannati.

Jamila Khatun, a student of class ten and daughter of local farmer Zaminur Rahman, said, "I and a few other girls go to Jannati and Khadiza apu to learn self-defense. It's having a positive impact in strengthening our confidence and morale."

All of this is changing the village's attitude on gender roles too. Local farmer Mazidul Islam told this correspondent, "Initially, the idea of girls learning martial arts did not sit well with the villagers. But over time, we've started to get it. The girls who learn martial arts are also helping others become confident," he said.

Their mother Rasheda Begum told The Daily Star that it's a tough task for the family to ensure the sisters get formally educated. With their meagre income, it's hard to meet the needs of the siblings, Rashida said. That they choose to keep fighting for a better life despite all of this makes her really proud.

"I am proud of our daughters. They are moving forward with a very optimistic and disciplined take on life," she said.

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