Today in Dalit History, we celebrate the achievements and the struggle of the Lady Muhammad Ali of India, Thulasi Helen.
Thulasi Helen first saw her her older sister Saraswathi taking up boxing when she was just a teenager. Looking up to her, she would follow her sister to her practices and her fighting tournaments, took up boxing at the age of 14. She soon got into the world of boxing herself and began developing role models. Her all-time favorite was Muhammad Ali. She did her own stint with boxing briefly when she was selected by the Sports Authority of India for training and went to Kollam in Kerala, for a year and fought her way to the top spot in the country and even defeated Olympian Mary Kom several times.
Thulasi Helen was asked to marry a man forcibly when she was only 14. She ran away and stayed in different places – traveling back and forth between her grandparents’, her friends’ and a hostel and working day jobs. “I am a one-woman army!, she asserts, “Life was tough, but whenever I stumbled, I told myself to get up and move on as I had only myself to rely on.”
Because circumstances had forced her to drop out of school, she began to privately prepare for and pass her school exams. After that, she began directing her energy towards one thing – boxing. Working hard, she eventually won her first Gold at the Indian International Boxing Championship XXIII New Delhi YMCA in the 42kg-44kg weight category. Her fans began calling her, “The Lady Muhammad Ali of India”, for her rapid footwork and stinging punches.
During her training period, Thulasi Helen also experienced a setback. Having experienced sexual harassment by the secretary of the State Boxing Association, she filed a case against him. In her charge, she stated that he had asked not only Thulasi herself, but many other young women who were in boxing for cash and sexual favors in exchange for a “forward” in their careers”. “Even if my boxing life might be lost, I should save the other girls,” says Thulasi Helen. As expected, her allegations and her willingness to stand up to the widespread problem of sexual harassment in Indian sports was not without retaliation and she experienced the undue consequences of her courage.
Thulasi Helen says that it’s not “upper” Caste women who are exposed to these kinds of harassment. It is not “upper” Caste women who pursue difficult careers in boxing. It is almost always Dalit, Adivasi and Bahujan women. “Girls like me of a “lower caste” have no value. Because I was born Dalit, I’m expected to stay at the bottom. But I dream of a different life.”
Thulasi is now training again. She cannot be so easily stopped and she is planning a comeback. Salute to the power of Thulasi’s punches! Jai Bhim!
From – Dalit History Month Collective, Image Credit – TheNewsMinute