Santwana Rani Roy uses martial arts to keep girls safe from child marriage
In a country where violence against women is on the rise, and child marriage is still rampant, especially in rural areas, it is no small feat to stand up to your own family and say no to marriage. At age 16, Swantana Rani Roy did just that when her parents asked her to marry a wealthy man. A keen history buff, the teenager from Rangpur was more interested in furthering her education.
In 2005, she had just started as a freshman History major at Rangpur Government College, when she met AB Babel, a teacher of Rangpur Biam College, who introduced her to karate. It was the beginning of a career closely tied to martial arts. In 2010, when she enrolled at Rajshahi Government College for her post-graduate studies in History, she took up taekwondo training under the supervision of SM Tahmidul Haque. She got her black belt in Dhaka the following year.
In 2014, she beat out the hosts at the 7th Asian Taekwondo Championship held in Kathmandu, Nepal, and clinched the gold for Bangladesh. In 2017, she defeated a Czech opponent and won the bronze medal for Bangladesh in the 20th Taekwondo World Championships in Pyongyang, North Korea. Last year, she added first place at the 2nd Bangabandhu ITF Taekwondo Competition to her growing list of accomplishments.
Having seen, firsthand, how martial arts helped her, Rani Roy established a taekwondo training centre in her hometown in Lalmonirhat in 2016, where she teaches meditation, yoga, pattern, power breaking and techniques of self-defence to the girls. “Facing harassment and being a victim of rape is a matter of concern for girls in our country. One of my prime wishes is to train them so that they can take appropriate actions,” says Rani Roy. Her training centre now has some 50 instructors to teach young people how to defend themselves. She has also provided classes for the children of sex workers, a particularly vulnerable group.
The path wasn’t a smooth one. Rani Roy faced enormous opposition, not just from her family when she embarked on her own journey, but also from the community at large when she set up her school because the prevailing attitude has always been that martial arts is an activity exclusive to men. However, when news of her international exploits began to circulate, she began to witness a shift in attitudes. Winning the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2018, in particular, helped her work gain greater acceptance. “Now many girls say their parents want to be like me,” says Rani Roy.
The active Santwana Rani Roy, who is currently the Head of the Taekwondo Department at Cambrian School and College, rides bikes and motorcycle and enjoys sprinting, marathon running and swimming. She travels between districts on her motorbike, a feat that is still considered a challenge in Bangladesh. She believes that her martial arts training gives her the confidence to do so.
“I have seen many ups and downs in my life. From morning to dawn no matter how much burden I feel mentally and physically what keeps me on the go is my passion for Taekwondo. I am saying this out of my own experience that one who holds enthusiasm towards any kind of physical activities never gets tired. It keeps you charged up all the time,” said Rani Roy.