In Photos: Karate Is Changing The Lives Of Kashmir's Teenage Girls

A class for six girls at the Iron Fist Wing Chun academy for martial arts in Srinagar has swelled to 60.
Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah leading girl students during a training session at his martial arts academy in Soura, Srinagar. 
Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah leading girl students during a training session at his martial arts academy in Soura, Srinagar. 

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir ― In 2017, when Rabiya Nissar, a student from Kashmir had gone for a national martial arts event to Delhi, some boys turned up and started harassing the girls she was travelling with. The boys, who had no idea the girls were trained in martial arts, received a beating from Rabiya and her group.

I want every girl to join martial arts to gain the confidence level which is required in modern times,” said the 14-year-old. “For me, it’s a way of life. It teaches me how to walk while keeping my head high.”

For the past four years, Rabiya has been attending Iron Fist Wing Chun, a martial arts academy in Srinagar, Kashmir, run by Peerzada Adil Shah, an IT professional and a black belt in Taekwondo and other martial art styles, since 2012. It was two years later that Shah started a separate class for girls at the academy, located in Soura, a volatile neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city.

Not only is Muslim-majority Kashmir a conflict zone which sees frequent clashes between security forces and residents, especially in Srinagar, the traditionally conservative valley is also confronting a rise in crimes against women. The class for girls, which started with six, has swelled up to 60. It is the parents who religiously drop of and pick up their girls from the academy, every weekend.

“There are young girls, school goers, college students, university scholars in the batch for girls,” said Shah, a librarian at Sheri Kashmir University for Agriculture and Science Technology (SKUAST), who has self-funded the academy. “Self defence and martial arts is need of hour for girls.”

The academy has recently added a “super mom” group. “Martial arts is a discipline of life and it has two objectives, how not to fight and how to finish quickly,” he said.

Muskaan Rashid, who has trained at the academy, described how she reacted when some boys passed lewd comments and hit her brother in 2018. “I intervened and punched one of them badly,” said the 14-year-old. “I told them to go and bring whoever you want to bring.”

“For me, it’s a way of life.  It teaches me how to walk while keeping my head high.”

Iron Fist Wing Chun academy in Kashmir.
Sharafat Ali
Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah during a training session for girls at his martial arts academy in Soura, Srinagar. Every weekend, Adil teaches the girls self defence and sports martial arts. Girls from different localities visit this academy accompanied by their parents who drop and pick them up.
Sharafat Ali
The academy is registered with the State Sports Council, which organises various tournaments and martial arts events. Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah said, "Self defence is very important in present times, but most parents want their kids to win medals and trophies, so we teach them sports martial arts."
Sharafat Ali
Girls practicing with nunchucks, a traditional martial arts weapon. Along with the basics of sports martial arts, girls learn traits of self defence martial arts at the academy, which includes punching, kicking, flips and many more combative techniques.
Sharafat Ali
Adeeba Gulzar, who is called 'champ' in the academy, has won laurels at the national and regional level. Taking inspiration from her sister Aqsa, who had joined the academy in 2015, Adeeba visits the academy along with her two sisters.
Sharafat Ali
During a training session, Eeshal Maryam performs a full leg stretching while others can been seen in a traditional martial art stance.
Sharafat Ali
"While there are many academies for boys to train at, there is hardly any academy where girls can learn traits of martial arts in Kashmir," said Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah.
Sharafat Ali
"Self defence is very important for anyone, especially girls, looking at the number of harassment cases in Kashmir surfacing these days," said Peerzada Adil Iqbal Shah. "Moreover sports keeps one healthy and fresh and who does not want to be fit."
Sharafat Ali
Sisters Adla and Andleeb posing for a picture after a training session. While Adla is still in school, Andleeb goes to college. The duo along with their elder sister train at the academy, every weekend.
Sharafat Ali
Aqsa Gulzar practicing a kick during a weekend training session at academy. Aqsa has been a regular at the academy since 2015. She has inspired her two sisters, who also visit the academy regularly on weekends. "Our father is very supportive and makes sure we don't miss any training session at the academy. He picks and drops the three of us, every weekend," she said.
Sharafat Ali
Anjum, who goes to school, is seen practicing as the sunlight makes patterns on her Kung Fu robe.
Sharafat Ali
Girls stretching and warming up before the training session commences at the martial arts academy.
Sharafat Ali
Girls posing for a picture while doing a full stretch and karate stance during a training session at the martial arts academy.