Boxing changing lives of underprivileged boys in Howrah's slums

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Howrah (West Bengal), March 15 (ANI): The poverty-stricken and unemployed youth living in Howrah's Bagdi Para slum area in West Bengal have found a way out through boxing to keep themselves away from a life of crime, drudgery and anonymity.

An initiative by Tapan Kumar Basu, a former national boxing champion, led to the setting up of a boxing ring at the nearby Shibpur Police Lines a decade ago, where young boys between the age of 10-25 started training every evening.

Over the years, the boxing ring became an excellent way to inculcate discipline among the youth, keep them grounded and focus their energy towards something positive and fruitful.

"This is a disturbed area. The boys here - both Bengalis and non-Bengalis -- are taking to anti-social activities due to poverty and lack of opportunities. From eve-teasing, murders, black-marketeering to a host of other anti-social activities, they do it all. I thought that through boxing they could find new direction, fight and establish themselves, achieve a good station in life. That's why we started boxing here," says Tapan Kumar Basu.

According to the youngsters here, poverty and unemployment were the two main problems for the youth in the slums. They often turned to crime from eve-teasing to black-marketeering, petty thefts or joining gangs to ease their frustrations or earn a living. But with boxing, everything changed. Not only did the youth develop an interest in the sport, many found themselves making a career in boxing while others managed to get jobs because of their boxing experience.

"We saw our seniors doing well at the state and national-level meets. Many found government jobs in the sports quota. Others got jobs with private firms or as security personnel. It gave us hope that maybe we too could achieve something and raise ourselves above this squalor", said Joginder, one of the boxers.

According to coach, Goswami Singh, in the last ten years, about 70 youths have found employment through boxing while many have become state-level and national-level pugilists. Every third house in the slum has a boxer in the family today.

The Bagdi Para slum houses some 300 families and most of the men work as daily tea sellers, labourers or as cleaners and sweepers at the Howrah Municipal Corporation.

For young boys of such families, boxing is something they can take up without much expenditure.

The discipline found within the boxing ring, also makes them more responsible in life. Young boxers like Parvind Rajbar say they now go to school regularly before turning up for boxing practice in the evening. Coach Singh says that boxing enables even the poor to find a position in life. Many national level boxers come from poor backgrounds, he pointed out.

At Bagdi Para, those who have found jobs through boxing take good care of their families now.

Though there have been small sponsors for boxing kits, travel etc, lack of proper infrastructure and diet are two main concerns for the talented young boxers of Bagdi Para now. But having reached so far, they feel that the future can only get better. By Ajitha Menon (ANI)

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