Tajamul Islam, 14, is the first girl from Kashmir to represent India and win the gold medal (under-14 age category) in the World Kickboxing Championship held in the Egyptian capital Cairo on October 22 in 2021. She comes from Muslimabad, a small village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. In 2016, Tajamul clinched the gold medal in the under-eight category of the World Kickboxing Championship in Italy.

At a celebration on October 4 this year, Tajamul met Amit Shah, India’s Union Home Minister at Raj Bhavan in Srinagar. In a tweet after the meeting, he called the two-time world kickboxing champion “India’s talented daughter” and an inspiration to every Indian.

In an exclusive interview, Tajamul told India Currents about her journey as a champion kickboxer and her meeting with the Home Minister.

IC: How does it feel to be felicitated by the Home Minister?

TI: It was a great feeling, an electric current of sorts, to be on the list of big leaders who were there to meet Home Minister Amit Shah. I couldn’t believe it at first, that this was actually happening. And when I finally met him, he encouraged me and said, “You are an example for Kashmir and I wish to see more girls like you here in future.”

It was really a great interaction with him. He rose from his chair when I came in front of him, and that speaks a lot about the kind of person he is. I will remember his words, magical words I would rather say, forever.

IC: “India’s talented daughter,” and “an inspiration to every Indian.” These are big compliments from Amit Shah through his tweet. What would you like to say about it?

Amit Shah posts a congratulatory message to Tajamul (courtesy: Twitter)

TI: I have no words and am still in shock. I was not expecting that he would tweet immediately after our meeting, and kept thinking to myself that if there was anything to come from him, it would take 4 or 5 days. But as I was on my way back home from Raj Bhavan, I saw the tweet and was overwhelmed by joy that he said that about me. I think I still need to do more so that I am described as world’s best daughter.

Tajamul Islam with her gold medal (courtesy: Younis Bashir)

IC: Tell us about your kickboxing journey, your struggles, setbacks, and the road to success.

TI: When I recall how it all happened, I feel that if I had not fought, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I sometimes get emotional also. There were some women in our society who used to say, “Why allow a girl to train or play sport when the only future she has is get married and do household chores. It doesn’t benefit her even if she becomes an officer. She has to leave her home for her in-law’s and cook for them.”

Those words would almost crush us (Tajamul’s elder sister is also a kickboxer) under their weight.

It was our mother who supported us during our initial days of training. Our father did not, due to society pressure. We were very young to understand what our father was going through then.

Major Ragu from Army Goodwill School Bandipora, the school where I study, was very supportive from the beginning. He spoke to my father and convinced him to allow us to train. He asked him, “When you are no more there for your children, will society feed them? Think big. Look beyond Bandipora and see what girls have accomplished. I am damn sure that if you support your daughter, she will touch the sky.”

Post that interaction, our father gathered us in the kitchen and asked if we really wanted to do what we were doing then. I was the first one to say yes. He said, “All right, go for it. But don’t return home without a medal.”

We kept practicing and began playing at district and state levels. People still kept talking about us and they haven’t stopped till date. But somewhere I feel that the jealousy or hate you receive from some people makes you stronger. I tell myself let them talk whatever they like; I have still miles to go.

The trophy room (courtesy: Younis Bashir)

IC: What do you want to achieve in the years to come?

TI: I want to keep breaking and joining bones (laughs). I want to join a club and do what people say is impossible. I also want to be an orthopedic surgeon and win a medal at Olympics.

There is this notion that there is no career in sports, which is not true. Those who get medals, they get jobs also and continue their game alongside. Also, you live a very good life in sports in terms of fitness and all. You get to focus on yourself, and that feels good. I feel what girls, especially the ones from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, get to hear or say is that you can’t play or excel in sports without money. I say that your talent is the money. If you have any kind of talent, don’t hide it. And if girls come forward, speak for themselves, and receive support from their parents, this world will get to see more talent from Bandipora.

Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a journalist from Kashmir, India. Previously, he was a Delhi-based correspondent at FORCE newsmagazine, His book (memoir) "Jiji: The Trials and Tribulations of Parveena Ahangar" was...