‘There’s no such thing as a boy sport,’ 27-year-old Unjuman Farooq, proved this right. Farooq is the first black belt in Thang-Ta martial art in India. She rose to fame last year when she acquired the distinction of being a black belt at an international event of Thang-Ta Martial Art in Imphal. A martial art expert for 18-long-year, Unjuman, believes in being fearless in every move she makes.
Unjuman, who hails from Baghat area of Srinagar, works as a Physical Education lecturer at the Delhi Public School, Srinagar. She was inspired by her late footballer father, Farooq A. Bhat, and mother Jameela to master the art of Thang-Ta. Come March, she will be participating in Thang-Ta World Cup 2019 in Thailand. Some edited snippets from our conversation with the gold medalist.
What inspired you to take up Thang-Ta?
What attracted me to this sport? This art requires me to hold a sword. Need I say more? I can kick, punch and use the equipment like real swords. It makes me feel powerful.
You are a national award-winning Thang-Ta player and also coach players. When did you realise the passion for sports?
I was inclined towards sports since childhood and wanted a career in this industry. And Thang-Ta gave me the excitement I was looking for. I have mastered this particular martial art for the last 18 years but the true achievement came in November last year when I became a black belt at the International level. It was the first gold medal in Thang-Ta for the country too.
And, when did you decide to become a coach?
When I completed my masters in physical education, I joined the Delhi Public School, Srinagar as a physical education lecturer and I also start coaching them in Thang-Ta.
Who was the inspiration behind your career?
My inspiration has been my father, Farooq Ahmad Bhat. He always supported me through thick and thin, and raised me as a feminist. He never discriminated between genders and taught me how not to think myself as a girl first.
He told me that when you are fighting only think yourself as a player, forget the gender.
Tell us a little about Thang-Ta.
It is a popular Manipuri martial art form involving a set of armed and unarmed fighting techniques. Thang-Ta is an individual event.
Coming from a society like J&K, how did you overcome the challenging times?
I come from a traditionally-rooted society. No one supported me to start my career in sports because of the lack of knowledge and backwardness. At the same time, I am blessed to have my parents. They always come forward and helped me.
Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t have any Thang-Ta academy where kids can get their training. Having girls to be interested in this sport is a difficult task since the society’s conviction over a sport is determined by the gender, not the player.
What drives you towards the sport? What does it mean to you?
Sports was my passion and now it has become my profession. I can say sports is my life.
What were some of the biggest challenges that came in your way?
The challenge for me is to find a sponsorship. I am the only earning member of my family since my father passed away a year ago. The responsibility of sustaining the family of four is really not easy. Following my heart is easy, but it comes at a price. I have to juggle work and passion. I played internationals but paid on my own. Nobody sponsored me. I am even looking for funding to set up my own academy.
Following my heart is easy, but it comes at a price.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating all kinds of sports?
India lacks job security, facilities, proper appreciation and equipment. I am an international gold medalist and I haven’t seen any encouragement from the govt. Our state is also vulnerable. We don’t have academies, infrastructure, and highest of all, we don’t have encouragement.
Our state is also vulnerable. We don’t have academies, infrastructure, and highest of all, we don’t have encouragement.
What is your core passion and long-term vision?
My passion is to continue with my sports and my long-term vision is to get into a position through which I can train more and more students.
Only passion cannot fulfill your desires.
What are the chances for girls from the state to take up the sport? Do they get as much exposure and enthusiasm as they deserve?
Girls have a lot of talent here, but they don’t get as many chances as they deserve.
How sports, in general, has liberated women in the area? Do women now seek to take up sports professionally?
Women are going neck to neck with the opposite gender, and in the state most of the women are realising their passion. That is a positive development, indeed.