Judoka Kabra Altaf is a former National Ski champion too. The 19-year-old Kashmiri girl ably balances her academic education along with her medal haul. Kabra met with a career-threatening knee injury during her tenure at the Centre of Excellence, NIS, Patiala. Discouragement came in various forms, but a strong will to achieve her goal kept her motivated. The gold medalist in the National School Games, Under-19 category, is also the youngest sportswoman from J&K to complete a certificate course in Judo at NIS. The Srinagar girl bagged the gold medal at 62nd National school games in New Delhi in 2017. At present, she is associated with the Inspire Institute of Sports Academy, Bangalore.
SheThePeople.TV spoke with Kabra Altaf to know more about her passion for the game. Some edited snippets from the interview.
What inspired you to take up Judo, considering that it is one of the toughest sport forms?
My father practised mixed martial arts and I always loved the way he would tell me how strong sportspersons are. He taught me about different types of self-defence techniques, judo throws. His fitness, confidence and strong mind were a few things that motivated me to pick up sports professionally. I remember in 2011, we visited the indoor stadium, in Srinagar and inquired about martial arts. They gave us two options, one was judo and another was a kicking martial art form. My father said that in judo you have to throw your opponent as I have taught you and that was the time I said yes, to judo.
Judo makes me feel like yes, I am doing the things I am meant for.
But Judo wasn’t your first love… so what was the trigger?
I started off as a snow skier and later found my calling in Judo and completed the advanced course of snow skiing in 2009, and clinched a few medals in the national skiing competition. I got selected to take part in the international skiing championship too, but luck wasn’t with me that time.
Before I started practising judo, I initiated to judo and mixed fights by my father at home. Trekking was also another of my passions. I would participate in almost every sports activity at our school. At the age of six, I first climbed the Zabarwan mountain, perhaps the youngest to do so from our locality. I have finished all ski courses within two years and have several open championships/state/national medals.
My father and mother always wanted me to learn martial arts. I exactly don’t know when sports became my passion, but once I started judo it was the turning point from where I never stopped. It was in my blood from my childhood.
I am living my father’s dream and trying to complete his unfulfilled goal of becoming a successful sportsperson of the nation.
Coming from a traditionally rooted society like J&K, and defeating a career-threatening injury, how did you overcome the challenging times?
Before the injury, I got selected in Centre of Excellence, Patiala and had just started winning medals. But after the knee injury, I was very confused and had lots of negative thoughts. I feared that after the surgery I may not be able to play. My sports career is going to end and there was nobody except my family who gave me strength during that time.
I started judo again after a gap of almost 18 months, and faced issues with fitness, support and appreciation. But I made a promise to myself to become better. And, most of all, I wanted to show each and every person who tried to discourage me that I can achieve my goal with the support of my family.
Does J&K have any Judo academy where kids get training? How many girls are there?
We have some judo academies in Jammu region, but in Kashmir we have only the indoor stadium in Srinagar where we can practice. When I started there were few girls, and for a long time, I was the only girl practising judo. But now I can see the difference, more and more girls are coming and taking interest in the sport.
I made a promise to myself to become better. And, most of all, I wanted to show each and every person who tried to discourage me that I can achieve my goal.
What were the biggest challenges that came in your way?
There were many challenges. A major one was related to my schooling, every time I had to come back home from the training centre for exams, and then go back on my own. Challenges like injuries and rehabilitation, lack of support, no sponsorship, no scholarship kept me restless but couldn’t demotivate me.
Athletes do not receive financial support from the government when it is truly needed. We players don’t have enough facilities in India. Indoor sports are not popular, preference is only given to outdoor sports.
What is your core passion and long-term vision?
To be the best in the sport. I am working for upcoming nationals, and Asian championships. My parents have supported me all through this journey, along with a few of my teammates. There have been ups and downs but I believe in my vision. And, my vision is for this sport to be popularised in the country like any other mainstream game.
Judo has taught me resilience and forbearance.
How sports, in general, has liberated women in the area?
The liberation of women should be linked to the awakening of their inner-will to take up whatever profession they want to. Neither sport nor any other activity can do much except for providing a platform.
Do you think women in sports face gender discrimination in our country?
Gender discrimination is something which has been in India for decades. Society expects men and women to adopt and fulfil specific gender roles. Men are expected to be strong and independent, whereas women to be quiet and obedient. Whenever someone tries to do things differently, they are discriminated and that is the main reason why women were not taking part in sports for so long in the country.
Now women are breaking the shackles, with increasing freedom to choose their profession according to their talent and passion but we still have a long way to go before we can uproot gender-based discrimination.
Athletics or other sports have traditionally been restricted to and associated with males, as a result, many girls and women avoided participating. This norm is changing. I can see women taking part in almost every activity and that is something which makes me feel proud as an athlete.