Giving it all for a dream | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 25, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:44 AM, September 25, 2020

Giving it all for a dream

Santwana Rani Roy defying odds to set up martial arts school for girls in Lalmonirhat

Her strength is evident in her belief, her past, present and her dreams for the future. Fighting social norms, martial artist Santwana Rani Roy, 36, has made herself a fine example for women and girls of the country to live up to.

"Marriage is not a solution in a woman's life. Marriage is [more often than not] just a decision a family takes to save women from the harsh eyes of society," she said.

Unmarried still, she says there is a lot of pressure from family and society for marriage but she believes that first and foremost, a woman needs to be able to stand on her own two feet no matter what.

"I am still struggling to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Women need to be self-reliant. And that is what I am working towards from my position."

Delving into martial arts is a good way for girls to become self-reliant, believes Swantana, a specialist in taekwando -- a Korean martial art characterised by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques with strikes being above waist height only.

"Taekwando helps strengthen girls' minds and helps them reach their goals," she said, adding, "Most parents in society do not come forward to give such opportunities to their daughters. If girls get such an opportunity, they will be able to defend themselves when the need comes." 

She thinks not just girls, but all young students can discipline themselves through taekwando.

Swantana used to teach the martial art to children in her village. She would make it a point to visit various schools and colleges to consult with teachers and exchange views with the students, especially the girls, and would also give training during the visits.

The martial artist is currently working as a taekwando teacher at Cambrian School and College in Dhaka. She has been providing taekwando training to students on 15 campuses of the institution since 2018.

Santwana won the "Joy Bangla Youth Award-2018" for her role in building self-reliant women by training them in Taekwando.

Since 2012, she participated in national and international taekwando competitions and bagged 10 gold medals as a champion martial artist.

Santwana's father Subhash Roy is a farmer. With her mother Jamuna Rani and three younger siblings, they live in Taluk Haridas village in Lalmonirhat's Aditmari upazila.

Whenever Swantana gets a break from her work in the capital, she rushes to her village to spend time with her family.

She passed her SSC examinations in 2001 from a local school.

As a student, she had to earn the money to continue her studies by herself and remained in Rangpur division as her family did not want her to go far away to study.

In 2001, she began working for various non-govt organisations (NGO) and travelled to different villages in her own district, Kurigram and Rangpur on a motorcycle for work.

She was admitted to Rangpur Government College in 2004 and had the opportunity to learn martial arts there. In 2008, she did her Master's in History from Rangpur's Carmichael College.

Juggling her job, studies and taekwando practice was quite a struggle, but that was where all her determination stemmed from.

She passed her LLB from Rangpur Law College in 2013, but continued working for NGOs till 2017.

Throughout that time, she did not give up on her passion for martial arts.

"I used to do yoga with my mother since I was a child. And so, picking up martial arts wasn't much of a trouble. I was trained in taekwando fairly quickly," she said, adding "I still practise to make myself the self-reliant woman I want to be. Taekwando is still teaching me many lessons."

With the help of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has granted her Tk 10 lakh in July, she has been spending part of her income on conducting taekwando practise sessions for students, especially for the girls in her village. 

Her father Subhash Roy told The Daily Star that his daughter Santwana had come as far as she has after many a struggle. "She is still struggling. She trains students in taekwando even when she comes home from Dhaka. She also teaches handicraft to the older women of our village."

He added, "I'm proud of our daughter, but there are also things that make me feel bad. I haven't been able to marry her off yet. The age to marry has passed but the girl just won't listen." 

Swantana said that she might get married but that isn't for now. "If I find someone who is against taking dowry, I might consider marrying him."

The ultimate dream Swantana is and has been working towards is building a taekwando institution in her district. "I am still struggling [to do so] but I will fight till the last day of my life to fulfil my dream."


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