GANDHINAGAR: IN her teens, Hinaben Khalifa used to accompany her mother Sugraben and elder sisters - Afsana and Madina - to various households in Vadagam of Aravalli district in Gujarat. Their job was to help their mother, who used to work as a house help, so that she can work at more houses and earn enough to make ends meet. Sugraben was forced to work as her husband, Salim Khalifa, got paralysed, rendering it impossible for him to continue earning for his family.
The ordeal continued for three years even as Hina and her sister Madina were aspiring to be a wrestler. The schedule was tight but the sisters didn't give up. They used to help their mother, attend school and train in the evening.
The struggles are not over yet but all those hard yards put in then have started translating into success on the wrestling mat — the most recent one coming at the 2022 National Games. Hinaben, on Sunday, became only the second woman wrestler from Gujarat to clinch a National Games medal as she finished third in the 53kg weight category.
She began her campaign at the Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar with an easy win over Himachal Pradesh’s Ritika and then won by technical superiority against Uttarakhand’s Priyanka Sikarwar. She was, however, no match to eventual champion Antim Panghal of Haryana. But Hinaben regrouped herself in time for the bronze medal bout against Shivani and won 7-1.
"Our elder siblings Amjad and Afsana used to train in a makeshift wrestling centre in our village. They initiated us into the sport. Even as they left, we continued the training," sister Madina told The New Indian Express.
Vinod Kunjawat, a senior grappler from the village, started training them in 2015. They continued to train there till 2018 when Hinaben got an offer to join Gujarat's government Centre of Excellence (COE) in Nadiad. "She weighed around 22kg when she first came to my centre but she was hardworking. Both the sisters used to come to the centre in the evening as they had to accompany their mother in the morning to help her. I used to drop them home as they often got late in training," said Kunjawat.
Hinaben was a toddler when her father suffered a paralytic attack in Odisha. The tragedy turned their lives upside down. The situation, however, also made all the siblings find solace in sports. "Wrestling was our way out of poverty and all the misfortunes. My brother got selected to represent Gujarat in age-group nationals but mother got worried and didn't send him. Then I got an opportunity to compete in the U-14 national tournament in 2017," added Madina.
All of them were into wrestling but it was Hinaben who tasted success. Once she got selected for the COE in Nadiad, she improved leaps and bounds. She also bagged a bronze medal in the junior national in 2020 but the lockdown due to Covid-19 meant she could not make it to the camp. "Hina recently won 53kg silver in an U-20 tournament. However, she was very upset ahead of the National Games as she was not able to get desired results of late. Even at her centre, she doesn't get a good sparring partner which she feels is stagnating her growth. I hope this medal motivates her to do better," added the sister.
Both Hina and Madina are pursuing BPEd (Bachelor of Physical Education). Madina recently got a job as a trainer with the Sports Authority of Gujarat. "The financial situation has improved to some extent. Now we have stopped our mother from working as a maid. Now I only want Hina to find a place in the national camp and represent the country in the days to come."
The weight division Hinaben competes in is an Olympic category. Wrestlers like famed Vinesh Phogat and young sensation Antim will be her opponents if she wishes to find a place in the national squad. Despite the competition, Madina is confident that her sister will make her place if she continues to work hard like she did when she was a teenager.