Kerala bodybuilder in hijab breaks barriers

When 23-year-old Majiziya Bhanu took to the stage to compete in the women’s segment of the Mr. Kerala competition in Kochi earlier this year, all eyes were on her — never before had a bodybuilder wearing a hijab (Muslim head scarf) participated in the event. Proving that hijab is no hurdle for her or any other woman, she went on to win the competition.

Ms. Bhanu believes that the hijab is never an obstacle for a woman with burning passion. While she is not the only Muslim woman in the world of arm-wrestling and powerlifting, she is yet to see another woman in the field who performs in a hijab.

“It is only after their names are announced that one realises that the contestant is a Muslim,” she said.

“I feel proud to wear the hijab, which is a part of my identity. It does not limit me in any way, but gives me dignity and strength.”

It took Ms. Bhanu just about two years to transform from being an ordinary dental student to a local celebrity, not just in her sleepy village, but across Kerala. She has been selected three times as the strongest woman of the State by the Kerala State Powerlifting Association.

In the two years since she began her career, she has already won national medals in powerlifting and arm-wrestling, while also continuing her dental training. And be it in practice or in competitions, she always wears her hijab.

“In the initial days, men used to stare at me as I had my hijab on. But soon they realised that I was as serious as them in my workouts. Then all the eyes disappeared,” she said.

Lack of facilities

While she was always interested in sports, there were hardly any facilities available in her village. But that did not stop her. Every day after her classes, she used to travel 60 km by train to her gymnasium in Kozhikode.

“I used to return around 9 p.m. Initially, it was tough, but I slowly gained the confidence to travel alone and, eventually, it became a part of my routine,” said the final year dental student

Ms. Bhanu is grateful for her parents’ strong support, without which she would not have reached this far. “I hail from a very orthodox village and my parents agreed to let me pursue my passion of bodybuilding.”

Today, Ms. Bhanu is an inspiration in her village for many other girls like her. After her success, the village has now got its own gym, which is frequented by women just as much as men.

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