Hania Ali Chandio - Knocking Out One Punch at a Time

The 14-year-old went looking for a boxing club in Baghdadi, a neighbourhood in Lyari. Hania is one of Lyari’s rising female boxers whose life revolves around a square.

  • 16 Dec - 22 Dec, 2017
  • Mariam Khan
  • Interview

Dimly lit, cramped alleys with barely any traffic, is what led to the arched door of the Zahid Shaheed Boxing Club. Pushing through the door is a world – one that is square and goes back to pre-partition times. Known for its great boxers, Lyari is home to football and boxing. Since May 2015, training for female boxers has been initiated too.

A group of young boys jog around the small compound of the club as one walks out in Muay Thai shorts and enters the ring, training with chief coach, Abdul Sattar.

Soon after the boys are told to wrap up and as they leave, the gate is flung open – Hania Ali Chandio enters with a firm gait along with her 15-year-old sister Bakhtawar and mother, Shazia.

It was seven months prior that the 14-year-old girl first stepped into this very zone which is now her second home.

“It was on first Ramadan when my mother and I went searching on foot for a boxing club in Lyari. We were fasting and it was around sunset that we came across this very boxing club,” Hania says.

This scribe asked Shazia about her reaction when she came across her daughter’s aspirations? “I like to see girls excelling in different fields by fulfilling their dreams. I told Hania if she is interested in boxing, I will stand by her but her dad disapproved of it initially.” But passion reigned supreme and Hania’s dad who initially was of the opinion that this game isn’t meant for girls, supported her too.

“Hania’s paternal family follows pardah for females, and are not allowed to go out. But both my daughters are boxers,” shares the doting mother who hails from a Pakhtun family. “My parents wanted me to teach them cooking, but I stood up against them and told them that girls aren’t destined for household chores only. They have dreams too and should work towards achieving them,” the adamant lady shares.

It has been two years since Hania’s family has moved to Lyari. “They have come here in chadar today but my daughters wear abayas,” she points out, adding, “we lived near Korangi Crossing earlier, but I have been born and bred here, so I told them, if they want to fulfill their dream, they have to cover themselves.”

Being a Grade 8 student at St. Patrick's Girls' High School, Hania trains daily for an hour. With weekly, and at times monthly tournaments, she keeps a balance between her academics and ‘passion’. “(Boxing) is my passion so I always try taking out time for it, how will I learn otherwise?” says the young female boxer.

Her day starts at Fajr when she does a lot of skipping, followed by a workout later in the day at the club.

Hania hails inspiration from Mary Kom and Muhammad Ali. “In my leisure time, I watch knockouts on YouTube,” she pours words and jubilantly recalls a punch of her ideal, the Olympic Indian boxer Mary Kom. “I think it was her second championship when in the first round after a punch or two, a punch followed when her opponent fell down. Oh! That was epic!”

Having knocked out her opponent once, Hania has become used to punches. What does one feel when hit by one, I ask? “I am used to punches now, with headgear protecting the face. Having been trained now, I do not feel dizzy anymore.”

Determination is key and with a game where one’s face is the target, Hania is often questioned if she is afraid of boxing. “You need to win from fear before starting to box,” she says point blank. “Hont tou roz phattey rehtay hain, but that does not mean I will give up the sport.” Having trained regularly for the past seven months, Hania has “a better grip now along with pumped biceps and triceps.”

With passion-driven coaches across the 13 boxing clubs in Lyari, Hania says, “Our government should fund these clubs. Now that girls are taking part too, a separate club should be made for them.”

Hania believes that she, along with her fellows can improve the condition of the club they train in. But she wishes weight lifting machines were installed, so that her group would be able to workout better.

In future Hania sees herself representing Pakistan, however, the dreamer has another aim which she is pursuing alongside. “I want to join the army,” she shares determinedly.

Having a sibling who also practices the craft, I ask if she trains with Bakhtawar at home? “We try to, but I can’t bring myself to hit her since she’s my sister, but at times, the practice does take a serious turn.”

Following a maxim “Ek punch lagega, tou do challayengey bhi tou sahi”, Hania takes each match as a challenge from which she steps out as a learner.

Hania’s world like yours or mine isn’t round. “My world is a 24x24 square,” she says as she lands into the ring, again. The coach signals and the match starts as Hania rolls her punches.