The Karate Champ Who Fought Epilepsy and Poverty from a Kolkata Slum to Conquer the World


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Ayesha Noor is a national and international gold medalist in Karate, and The Independent Television Service (ITVS) in USA is now making a documentary movie on her life to be featured on the Women and Girls Lead Global, an initiative that uses the theme of ‘the triumph of the underdog’ to promote positive change on gender issues. Ayesha will be the only Indian in the documentary.

Ayesha is a young 19-year-old teenager raised in the slums of Kolkata where her now deceased father used to work as an auto-driver. Ayesha Noor has fought epilepsy and poverty to become the world renowned Black Belt in Karate.

“The documentaries by ITVS will tell personal stories of five young women in five countries. The common factor is that all these women are examples to their peers. Each one of them does something special to help other girls,” said Koen Suidgeest from Netherlands, who will shoot the films.

Ayesha lives with her family in a one-room house on Mofidul Islam Lane in central Kolkata’s Beniapukur, a humble small dwelling clogged between two biryani shops where our Karate champ can hardly stretch properly.

In 2012, Ayesha won three gold medals in state and national karate championships, after which she headed to Thailand where she struck gold in the Thai Pitchai International Youth Karate Championship. She was the only girl in the 12-member Indian team.

So what does our karate champion do for a living?

Ayesha trains every day at the Ramleela ground in Entally and coaches girls in self-defence on Sunday evenings at a park opposite Rajabazar Science College.

Ayesha Noor Karate

“It has been a struggle. My father died, my mother sews for a living. Food at home is short. But my parents always told me to work hard and I did. Thanks to my coach, MA Ali. Without him nothing would have been possible,” said Ayesha to NDTV India.

Mr. Ali won gold at a major tournament in 1988. He coached Ayesha’s brother who brought her to class one day, because she insisted. Her elder brother Tanveer, a temporary shoe salesman, is the family’s sole breadwinner.

Ayesha mentioned that she idolises Olympian boxing medalist Mary Kom of Manipur.

With her achievements and ever-challenging stance, Ayesha has become a crusader of gender rights for the whole world. She is Muslim and has inspired dozens of others to break taboos and join her karate classes. Many of her students wear the hijab and even the burqa.

No wonder ITVS feels that hers is a phenomenal story of a young woman who is single-mindedly pursuing her aim of becoming a karate champion despite all odds. It is filming the stories of four women from Jordan, Kenya, Peru and Bangladesh, besides the story of Ayesha Noor. ITVS is a non-profit organisation that promotes and funds international documentary film projects. It was created by a US Congress mandate in 1988.

When the news of the documentary reached the Chief Minister’s office in Kolkata, the minority affairs office called Ms. Noor extending their help. Ayesha Noor has expressed that she does not want charity.

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