India's newest superhero: None other than boxing champion Mary Kom

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH here in Boston. There’s a new superhero coming soon to TV screens in India. Not that country’s version of Spiderman or The Incredible Hulk. This superhero bears an uncanny resemblance to India’s Olympic boxer, Mary Kom. Adrija Bose is a social media editor for Huffington Post in New Delhi. She says this is all about an athlete who is a real inspiration for many in her country.


Adrija Bose: Mary Kom is like a phenomenon in India. She won the 2012 Olympic bronze medal for us. She’s also the only woman boxer in the world to have won a medal in six world championships. And she comes from a very humble background. Like, she comes from Manipur, which is not a decent part of the country, and her parents were farmers, and despite that she was very passionate about boxing.


Werman: And I gather she’s training for the Rio Olympics. But this is a story about much more than an athlete. I mean, she’s inspired a Bollywood blockbuster about her life last year and now there’s a project to start an animated series around her. She’s going to be a superhero?


Bose: Absolutely, she’s going to be a superhero now for the country. But I think she was a superhero for a lot of people before that. You know, she’s been this sport icon and… You know, there are many things here: So, she defines that women empowerment in a whole new different level here; she’s the mother of three kids and despite that she spends her time most of the time at the ring and she went on to win these awards. Besides that, she does a lot of other things like she’s also at the health ministry because Manipur is one place where there’s huge drug abuse, so she campaigns against that whole issue, the drug abuse. So, you know, she’s not just being an athlete, she’s done so many things. And Bollywood is so huge in India, but we don’t have actors from the northeast. So, she being a woman and an athlete, she’s done phenomenal work.


Werman: I mean, she’s a strong woman role model--it has to be said--a fighter in a time when women are pushing back in India, when the Delhi gang rape is still fresh. Is she part of this kind of pushback?


Bose: Yes. I mean, given that this Delhi gang rape happened and how women are portrayed in the country… So, she’s an idol, right? So, she is a fighter and she stands for all those things. So, when she’s out there, you know there’s some hope. I mean, there’s somebody who’s fighting out there, so you know you can too. So, she’s like an inspiration. Women don’t fight, boxing much. But when you see Mary Kom, you know that you can fight--you have to fight daily, and she’s like an inspiration, absolutely, yes.


Werman: When she puts on her gloves, she’s literally fighting. But with this cartoon series, is it going to be more like the fight for truth, justice, and the Indian way?


Bose: Yes, I think so, though it hasn’t been relieved what it’s going to be all about. It’s going to be for girls, for little kids, but I am presuming it’s going to be a lot more than that. And we’ve also had superheroes before who have represented women empowerment.


Werman: Yeah, like who?


Bose: We recently had this comic book called Priya Shakti. The idea was based on the whole Delhi gang rape. The fictional character, Priya, is essentially a rape survivor. So, she fights for gender equality, she battles gender crimes in the country. It was conceptualized in 2012 after the Delhi gang rape. Indians relate to it because Priya is this girl fighting against these gender crimes with the blessing of the goddess Parvati.


Werman: So, the Mary Kom animated series will spread this message of empowerment. I’m just curious, how many girls in India box because of Mary Kom?


Bose: I know for a matter of fact that in Mary Kom’s boxing academy--she has her own boxing academy--it has around 50 rising great stars, young women.


Werman: Adrija, have you ever had an urge to try out boxing yourself?


Bose: Yes, I think I will do it.


Werman: Adrija Bose, social media journalist speaking with me from New Delhi.


Bose: Thank you so much.


Werman: Girls and women who kick butt and take names--that’s what you’re going to hear on The World next week as part of our special series: Teach Her. Every day we’ll feature stories about girls and women’s education, including one about women learning how to surf in Iran.


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Werman: Women teaching women how to surf along the southern coast of Iran. That’s part of our series, Teach Her, next week right here on The World. And we want you to be a part of it. Are you a girl who’s a sports star in your town? How are you making sports a part of your life? We want to know. Send us a pic of you on the move. Tweet it to us using the hashtag #TeachHer.