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Dhaka Tribune

How Mabia tackled racism, bullying to become weightlifting star

While speaking to Dhaka Tribune during a recent interview, Mabia Akter Simanta admitted that she and her parents used to cop racist words from relatives, while she also suffered vitriol from neighborhood and beyond

Update : 25 Aug 2023, 11:18 PM

Mabia Akter Simanta had to face racism and bullying from relatives and neighbors but never lost courage and confidence as she went on to become the most successful weightlifter in the history of Bangladesh with her feats in the last eight years.

While speaking to Dhaka Tribune during a recent interview, Mabia admitted that she and her parents used to cop racist words from relatives, while she also suffered vitriol from neighborhood and beyond.

“As I was black, my relatives used to tell my parents that they would struggle to arrange marriage for me. They thought that nobody would marry me because of my skin color. They wondered what would happen to me,” said the 23-year old ace Bangladeshi athlete.

The racism started before Mabia stepped into the sports arena and after joining weightlifting, she encountered bullying for her dress and outgoing activity. 

“Boys in and outside the neighborhood bullied me while I was moving on the streets. They bullied me about my dress. They also pilloried me for leaving home at dawn and returning at night. They suspected I was with bad company,” she said before adding, “My father also used to hear those words a lot but he encouraged me and my uncle [boxing coach Kazi Shahadat Hossain] provided support and gave me protection.”

When asked how she overcame those obstacles to become the best female weightlifter Bangladesh has ever produced, Mabia replied that the best way forward was to ignore and silence them with success.

“What can I do if they throw those words at me? I thought if I continue working, I can prove them wrong, and myself right. All they did was talk, while my work was to reach my goal. That’s what was always on my mind,” she said.

The same question was asked to Mabia’s sister, Anjuman Akter Moni, 28, who replied, “It’s because of her persistence. When she is determined to do something, she just carries on. She is very dedicated from childhood.

“She went to practice wearing tracksuit but for this many people in our locality threw negative words at her. They asked us why a girl should play. They didn’t take it positively.

“Mabia ignored them. She was not like other girls in our society. She always thought she can do anything that boys can do. When she started weightlifting, she fell in love with it. She then set about becoming a good athlete.” 

However, all the cruel and nasty criticisms were too much to take for Mabia who suddenly gave up one day, skipped training and stayed home.

It was her father who told her that she has to prove herself through sports.

He inspired her to prove those people wrong.

Since then, she never gave up and the rest, as they say, is history.

Her father, Mohammad Harunur Rashid Hawlader, told Dhaka Tribune, “Since childhood, she loved sports more than studies. I didn’t resist her. I never gave any importance to those negative words. I was poor and couldn’t provide her proper meals but always encouraged her to continue playing.”

He said all the doubts of the neighborhood had dissipated after Mabia clinched gold medal at the South Asian Games 2016 and following her momentous achievement, they changed their tune and started supporting her. 

It was former national boxer and Bangladesh Ansar’s current boxing coach Kazi Shahadat Hossain who introduced Mabia to weightlifting at the age of 11 after she decided to quit studies.

“I had a friend who is a weightlifting coach (Faruk Ahmed Sarker). So I took Mabia and few other girls to him to try their luck. There she did quite well,” said Shahadat.

“In our conservative society where Islam is dominant, most of the people didn’t accept girls playing in pants or shorts. Many uttered stupid words. I tried to motivate Mabia to concentrate on sports and not listen to those words.” 

Also Read; Mabia Interview in full: Bangladesh weightlifters are like caged animals in a zoo

Mabia’s maternal uncle continued, “Things changed after girls started bringing success in sports like cricket, football and archery. The guardians have also become more conscious regarding physical benefits of sports. Now many girls are coming to sports.” 

Currently there are more than 200 female weightlifters in the country and also female coaches like Shahria Sultana who was the mentor of Mabia, the first Bangladeshi to win gold at Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in 2015 and only Bangladeshi weightlifter to secure two SA Games gold medals.

“When Mabia started weightlifting, she was outstanding. I didn’t find it hard to train her as she understood fast. She was also dedicated and talented. So she quickly became the top performer of the country,” said Shahria. 

Mabia also often mentioned Bangladesh Weightlifting Federation’s Mahiuddin Ahmed who visited her house soon after she started practice, convinced her parents of their daughter’s exceptional talent and promised to look after her.

The federation’s vice-president said: “Mabia is tremendous. She is extraordinarily brilliant. She is strong. It is her strong will power that helped her to tackle all those criticisms and negative words.”

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