Choudhary defeated local hope Barbara Marcinkowska in the welterweight (69kg) summit clash held in Kielce, Poland, adding cheer to the Indian contingent, which went on to win seven gold medals from as many finals.
Hailing from the country’s educational hub Kota, Choudhary looked destined to become an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) aspirant like many others in the area with insistence from her father Suresh but her mother Sunita came to the rescue, convincing her husband to let their daughter pursue her first love — sports.
Choudhary, who represented the state in basketball, switched to boxing at age 15 and rose to stardom in a very short span — clinching the Rajasthan State Junior Sub-Junior Championship four years in a row starting 2016. She won gold in the 60kg weight class at the Khelo India Youth Games three years consecutively beginning 2017.
Further, Choudhary went on to win many national and international titles later including the 2017 Valeria Demyanova Memorial Tournament in Ukraine, 7th Nations Cup in Serbia in 2018, 2019 Esker All Female Boxing Cup in Ireland and recently the Adriatic Pearl tournament in Montenegro.
(Arundhati Choudhary (left) gestures after winning the 69kg final against Barbara Marcinkowska of Poland)
“I was always of a very aggressive and combative nature,” Choudhary told TOI from Poland. “Discrimination or prejudice of any kind would make me angry. I would not fear even fighting senior boys, though I was not a boxer then. In one such incident at school, I hit a senior boy with my bottle as he was not letting the girls fill water from the tap on the pretext that men are superior and they will decide who would get a chance.
“So when I wanted to pursue basketball further, my father said that don’t take a team sport as there is a good amount of politics there. You should take up either boxing or wrestling as they suit your nature. He informed me about the top names in both sports from MC Mary Kom and Vijender Singh to the Phogat sisters. And that’s when I decided to become a boxer.”
Before being allowed to take up the combat sport, her father wanted her to become an engineer as she was good at mathematics.
“Arundhati was very good in studies. Initially, I wanted her to focus on her study only as I was sure that she would clear the IIT exam. Moreover, I was of the opinion that it is not possible to survive in sports without contacts. This pre-conceived notion was the reason that I was hesitant towards my daughter joining sports,” Suresh told TOI from Kota.
“She was the captain of the Basketball team in her school and also played at the state level but I told her that I would allow her to play sports only if she joins an individual game. The moment I mentioned boxing, she agreed to it and was adamant that she would only play this game.”
(Arundhati, right, in action)
Decision was made but Choudhary had to overcome a lot of hurdles before carving a niche for herself — from lack of training facilities and coaches to battling social taboos which didn’t see women doing anything beyond household work like cooking and cleaning.
The Springdales Children School student had to enrol under Wushu (a martial arts form) coach Ashok Gautam to learn the basics of boxing as there was no academy in Rajasthan then, forget Kota.
“My grandmother, uncle and aunt were initially against me taking up boxing as a career. They felt it was too tough for a woman and there was no dignity in it and in case of injuries it will be difficult to marry me. But my mother always stood by me. She never let me enter the kitchen and instead asked me to focus on my passion. But after I started winning national and international titles their opinion has changed.
“When I took up the sport, I didn’t know where to go as there was no trainer or coach for boxing in the city. I then got to know about Ashok sir and he agreed to train me and introduce me to boxing. I used to reach his academy at 4.30am and returned home by 7am to get ready for school. After attending school and then my tuition, I would again train in the evening. This became a routine which I follow till now unless I am travelling for competitions,” she added.
“I have two daughters and one son but I have never asked my daughters to work in the kitchen or learn how to make food,” said Sunita, who never forgets to cook Choudhary’s favourite Dal Baati with garlic chutney whenever she returns from a tournament.
“I told them you should do whatever you feel like and fulfil your dreams and stand on your feet. Since childhood, Arundhati was always more interested in sports than anything else. I used to tell her not to worry about the kitchen and other things at home and rather focus completely on her game.”
Her father, who used to accompany Arundhati to the training facility, only realised her potential in late 2017.
“Initially, I considered it as her stubbornness and reluctantly supported her. In 2017, she won all the bouts cleanly with RSC (Referee Stopped Contest) during the state championships and in December 2017, I went to Junior National Championships in Rohtak where she won all the bouts convincingly. We used to hear a lot about the boxers from Haryana. Her semifinal was against the best boxer from Haryana whom she defeated in just the second round of the bout. At that time, I realised that there is something special in my daughter and I supported her whole-heartedly,” Suresh said.
Choudhary, who has already inspired girls in her hometown to take up boxing, wants to become a role model for womankind in line with boxing greats like Muhammad Ali.
“I want girls to get the freedom to decide what they want to do with their lives. I have heard stories about legendary Muhammad Ali and other great boxers like Mike Tyson. I want to inspire girls to take up sports and become a role model for them in the future,” she signed off.
Boxing Federation of India (BFI) president Ajay Singh said, “This has been an amazing effort from our youth boxers especially when the players had to be confined at home for most part of the last year and only make do with online training sessions. Our coaches and support staff did a stellar job despite the limitations and challenges.
“I congratulate all the winners on this unprecedented medal haul. This achievement is a testament of the talent we have in the upcoming generation of Indian boxing.”