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Women in burqa work out for fit, strong bodies

Swati Bhan, Nov 25, 2012 :
Burqa-clad women work out at a gym in Ahmedabad. Hanif Sindhi

Aspiring size zero and working out in a veil (burqa) might sound difficult but not so for a select group of women and girls from Ahmedabad’s Muslim-dominated areas of Juhapura and Jamalpur.

And despite initial resistance from families, they realised that health was more important than societal pressure. So they decided to brush aside the pressure and say cheers to good health and good figure. They realised that burqa cannot be  a deterrent.

And realising the importance of cons­ci­ousness among women in these areas, the number of gymnasiums has also been on the rise in Juhapura and Jama­lpur and some of them are specially dedicated to women clientele.

“Initially, when we started the gymnasium and mention­ed in the signboard that the facilities can be availed of by women as well, there was resistance from men and religious heads, but now things have changed for the better,” said Idris Ansari, one of the instructors at a gym in Juhapura.

He said that the credit goes to women for being decisive and pursuing with their decision to work out in gyms with a male instructor. Now, the gym has reserved three hours for women.

“Initially the response was not heartwarming but the scene changed, rather slowly. Now the number is steadily moving upwards,” pointed out Ansari. His gymnasium, called Shape, began with four girls and women and now has 30 and they utilise the facility during the timings exclusively reserved for women.

Even those attending these sessions also feel that it has made a difference for them. “I get time during  afternoon after my college and it feels good to realise that I am losing weight,’’ said first year student Sanjeeda Shaikh. 

She said that it has been a few months now and she is already feeling the difference and she does intend to continue as well. She said that initially there were inhibitions on working out with the burqa but later it became a habit and now, in fact, it is difficult working without it.

The teens, who are in their first year of college, asked “if actor Kareena Kapoor can why can’t we.” Some are accompani­ed by their burqa-clad mothers or elder sisters to give them confidence and support.

Habib Khan, another gym instructor, who also teaches women aerobics and karate, said: “It is good that girls and women even in the Muslim community have started realising the importance of exercising regularly.’’ He stressed that for some of them it had almost become an addiction and they do not skip the gym sessions. “The results are evident with the changes in their physique”, he added.

“We won't shed the burqa, it’s a part of our values and upbringing. And it doesn’t bother us one bit,” said Heena Khan, a middle aged woman and a mother of two. She said initially she did face resistance from her family where the men objected to working out at a gym with a male instructor.

“Soon they too realised that the energy levels were increasing and the lethargy too had reduced that was the time when they encouraged other women also to attend gymnasiums at a time specified for women,’’ said Khan.

The instructors agree that these girls come from orthodox middle class families and turning up at the gym was indeed a social revolution in their lives. “The good thing is that the men too have reali­sed the importance of good health and hence there is an increase in the number of attendance of women,’’ claimed Khan.

Seeing the enthusiasm, one of the gymnasium owners, to create the hype, had got his facility inaugurated by cricketer Yusuf Khan Pathan last year. And at the time of inauguration, Pathan stressed on the need for exercising, especially for women  and that has encouraged a lot of teenagers to make a beeline, admitted Khan.

“We  are in  marriageable age and have also realised that these days even men in our community look forwa­rd to meeting women who are conscious about their health and figure,’’ said Asifa Khan, who is now in her final year of colle­ge.  Asifa said that her mother accompanies her to the gym regularly and this will help her to find a better groom as she knows her interests and requirements.

“She has lost all the extra flab. Initially, it was difficult to work on the treadmill with a burqa but now it has become a habit and there are no inhibitions as well working out with a male instructor,’’ said Hasina, Asifa’s mother.

While it is growing business interest for the gym owners in these areas who are now investing on the latest equipment, the aspirants are also hopeful that one can make it to look in shape even with a burqa and all they need was a slight motivation.

Some women from lower strata of society are keen on going to a gym. But a few are afraid of  criticism and some cannot afford the money. “Rich people get away with whatever they do. Poor people like us can not take on community leaders,” a girl said.

The fad of working out in gym among Hindus is also picking up. They do work out with others in the morning hours. Though they do have reserved timing after 1100 hours till afternoon, there are not many takers for those batches.


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