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Inspired by the Mary Kom film, 8-year-old Tashvi Menghi is now a world champion

What started off as a precautionary measure has now transcended into a world championship medal in karate for Tashvi.

Tashvi with her bronze medal from the WMG 2016

The December 16, 2012 gang-rape case in the nation’s capital shook the very core of India’s struggle for gender equality. Apart from a massive uproar for swift justice in that specific case, Delhi saw a monumental increase in girls joining martial arts classes in an attempt to secure themselves from potentially harmful situations. The National Martial Arts Committee (NMAC) saw a 45% increase in admissions across all of their courses in early 2013.

Priyanka Menghi feared for the safety of both her daughters, and immediately applied for their admission into the local karate association. Little did she know that her younger daughter Tashvi would become a World Championship medallist in just three years’ time.

Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Priyanka said, “Even when I walk on the road, random men pass lewd comments, and the entire uproar during that case just made me feel quite vulnerable for my children. So both me and her father Sandeep decided to enrol Tashvi into karate as it is considered the best form of self defence.

“It began as a simple precautionary measure, and now it’s spiralled into something that is getting her acknowledgement from all across the country,” she added.

Youngest National Award nominee in 2016

A quick glance at the star-studded nomination list for the B R Ambedkar National Award shows all the usual suspects – Olympians Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Paralympic medallist Varun Bhati are front-runners in the sports category. However, the name Tashvi Menghi from karate is the one that stands out the most from the pack, not just for being relatively unknown, but also for how her achievement has crept under India’s sporting radar.

At just 8 years of age, Tashvi won a bronze medal at the World Martial Arts Games a month back which made her the youngest nominee on the list.

Her father Sandeep said, “Honestly, none of us actually knew how good she was at it. It was not until the National Games back in August that she won gold and we realised, okay, our daughter is the best in the country in karate. However, even post that we thought it’s still her hobby, until her coach called us up and said that she had been selected to represent India in the sub-junior category.

“We were left absolutely flabbergasted, because she is also an A grade student, she tops her class all the time. So we imagined this was her hobby, but the way she has progressed in this field, makes us feel that she can now consistently make the nation proud,” he added.

The 10th World Martial Arts Games held in South Africa is considered the pinnacle of the sport. A glittering opening ceremony saw as many as 76 countries participating. That adds even more heft to Tashvi’s bronze – it highlights how the sport of karate has the potential of being much more than a hobby in the country.

Sandeep said, “See, the main problem with karate is that people think it’s only a self defence form. Even the Sports Ministry doesn’t recognise it, hence it doesn’t fall within the realm of government funding. Only the government registered academies, which are a handful in number, receive 12 lakh a year, which is hardly anything considering the amount of events that are happening. To be honest, if my daughter wasn’t doing as well as she is in it, I wouldn’t have known either.”

The victorious Indian contingent

The Indian contingent won 10 medals at the event, helping them climb to the top 15 in the overall rankings. This is a first for the nation, which is yet to accept karate as a legitimate sport despite a high level of participation. According to NMAC data, one in three children in urban areas has participated in karate at some point.

Sandeep added, “Funds are extremely difficult to come by for Tashvi even now. For the first event, we got funds from the school. The school came forward and willingly funded her trip to South Africa. I will obviously have to pay the Rs 1.5 lakh back as it was a loan. I’m from a middle class family, and the cost of her international tournaments including training can range up to Rs 15 lakh per annum, which is extremely difficult to garner. I think corporates should see an Indian angle to this and start funding the sport.”

Cited as an example of excellence by Indian Martial Arts fraternity

Tashvi is all set to be felicitated at the Asian Championship to be held in Talkatora Stadium in Delhi, and she has already booked her spot for the International Championship in Thimpu, Bhutan. However, in all likelihood, the 8-year-old will have to miss the event due to lack of funds. Sandeep said, “I approached the school again for funding, but they have categorically said no. So you know there is a high chance the World Championship bronze medallist will miss that event. Right now we are targeting to grow the sport and popularise it; once that happens, they can get that platform.”

At just 8, such issues don’t affect Tashvi at all. She said, “Karate is not about pain for me. Yes I do get hurt, but it’s momentary. I guess it’s very similar to life that way – if you get hit, you must get up and move forward. That’s what my parents taught me. I just want to go to school and focus on my studies, and karate. If it doesn’t work out, no problems.”

Her daily routine is like every other child her age. Wake up, go to school, come back, go practise karate, return back home, watch ‘Taraak Mehta ka oolta chashmah,’ finish her homework and go to sleep. However, her maturity at such a fledgling age is what stands out.

Sandeep added, “After watching Mary Kom the film, she got really inspired it. She also wanted a cupboard full of medals, she came and told me that she dreams of becoming like Mary Kom.”

Attitude of a winner

Tashvi’s mother is in awe of her daughter’s attitude. She said, “After she won the medal in South Africa, we started crying, we just couldn’t control (ourselves). But Tashvi was normal, she didn’t react too much; she was actually far more disappointed that she narrowly missed the silver medal. So we often wonder how she’s this calm, you know.”

Such behaviour at a young age is often the stuff of autobiographies of athletes such as Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods. How is a little girl from Dwarka mimicking such behaviour? The answer is simple: the attitude of a champion doesn’t know any country, location or sport. Once inculcated, it truly transforms an individual into a winner.

The best way we as a nation can help Tashvi, is by giving her a platform to excel. Her talent and never-give-up attitude will do the rest.

Sandeep added, “The National Martial Arts Director pointed Tashvi’s example out as an indicator for excellence, but for Tashvi the journey has only begun. She knows that she wants to just keep fighting until she becomes the best, and we as parents must give her that platform. If we can’t, then we have failed to do justice to her talent.”

Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Tashvi what happens if she stops karate for a while. She replied, “I practise twice as hard once I begin.”

In this age when athletes have disciplinary problems even after crossing adulthood, Tashvi’s attitude indicates that India may have unearthed a potential champion.

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