Thulasi Helen

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Thulasi Ekanandam (born 1986) also known as Thulasi Helen, is an Indian amateur boxer from Chennai who won her first gold medal at the 23rd YMCA Boxing Championship in New Delhi in 2000 in the 42 kg-44 kg weight category. She is sometimes known as “The Lady Muhammad Ali of India” [1] [2] [3] [4] because of her rapid footwork and stinging punches.

Amateur boxing boxing by non-professionals

Amateur boxing is a variant of boxing practised at the collegiate level, at the Olympic Games, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games, as well as many associations.

Chennai Megacity in Tamil Nadu, India

Chennai is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, it is the biggest cultural, economic and educational centre of south India. According to the 2011 Indian census, it is the sixth-most populous city and fourth-most populous urban agglomeration in India. The city together with the adjoining regions constitute the Chennai Metropolitan Area, which is the 36th-largest urban area by population in the world. Chennai is among the most-visited Indian cities by foreign tourists. It was ranked the 43rd-most visited city in the world for the year 2015. The Quality of Living Survey rated Chennai as the safest city in India. Chennai attracts 45 percent of health tourists visiting India, and 30 to 40 percent of domestic health tourists. As such, it is termed "India's health capital". As a growing metropolitan city in a developing country, Chennai confronts substantial pollution and other logistical and socio-economic problems.


Early life

Helen was born in 1986 to a Dalit family in Chennai. She took up boxing classes at the age of 14 after watching her older sister Saraswathi participate in the sport. It was around the same time that she was forcibly asked to marry a man her father knew from church. [5] She rejected him and ran away from home after disputes with her family. [6] Her parents had been unhappy that she refused to change her religion. [7] She had dropped out of school and was living variously with her grandparents, friends, in hostels, at railway stations and on beaches. She earned money by doing odd jobs like delivering pizzas, driving an auto to survive. [6] [8]

Boxing career

After winning the gold medal in the 42–44 kg category at the 23rd YMCA Boxing Championships in 2000, [6] Ekanandam was selected for special training by the Sports Authority of India. Thereafter, she beat Mary Kom but in 2011 her relationship with the Tamil Nadu state boxing association was soured after she filed a claim of sexual harassment and she was suffering financially. She left the state team at that time and was absent from the sport for some years. [6] [7] She believes that her successes were in spite of discrimination, including by the boxing association of Tamil Nadu, on the basis of her being a Dalit woman. [2]

Sports Authority of India

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is the apex national sports body of India, established in 1984 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of Government of India for the development of sport in India. SAI has 2 Sports Academic institutions, 10 "SAI Regional Centres" (SRC), 14 "Centre of Excellence" (COE/COX), 56 "Sports Training Centres" (STC) and 20 Special Area Games (SAG). In addition, SAI also manages Netaji Subhash High Altitude Training Centre as well as 5 stadiums in the national capital of Delhi, such as Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Arena, Dhyan Chand National Stadium, SPM Swimming Pool Complex and Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range.

Mary Kom Indian boxer

Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte is an Indian Olympic boxer from Manipur. She is the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the first seven world championships. Nicknamed Magnificent Mary, she is the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category and winning the bronze medal. She had also been ranked as No. 1 AIBA World Women's Ranking Light Flyweight category. She became the first Indian woman boxer to get a Gold Medal in the Asian Games in 2014 at Incheon, South Korea and is the first Indian woman boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She is also the only boxer to become Asian Amateur Boxing Champion for record five times.

Tamil Nadu State in Southern India

Tamil Nadu, is one of the 29 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian subcontinent and is bordered by the union territory of Puducherry and the South Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. It is bounded by the Eastern Ghats on the north, by the Nilgiri Mountains, the Meghamalai Hills, and Kerala on the west, by the Bay of Bengal in the east, by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait on the southeast, and by the Indian Ocean on the south. The state shares a maritime border with the nation of Sri Lanka.

Helen was working as a fitness instructor in 2016, at which time she had resumed boxing training in the hope of launching a career in the professional ranks. [6] By 2017, she was participating in mixed martial arts events. [9]

Mixed martial arts full contact combat sport

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from various combat sports and martial arts. The first documented use of the term mixed martial arts was in a review of UFC 1 by television critic Howard Rosenberg in 1993. The term gained popularity when, then one of the largest websites covering the sport, hosted and republished the article. The question of who actually coined the term is subject to debate.

Sexual harassment and discrimination

A.K. Karuna, secretary of the State Boxing Association in India, asked Helen for cash and sexual favours if she wanted to be considered for a government programme that would give her a stable job and she would still be able to pursue her boxing career. Helen realised she is not the only one who has been asked for sexual favours. She complained against Karun and he was arrested. But Helen's boxing club closed down and her chances of winning became slim. [5]

Helen also claims to have experienced discrimination based on her caste. She also said that many girls belonging to lower castes choose boxing as their ticket to a better life. [5]


Helen, who had won 30 medals in total up to 2016, [2] was awarded a World Tamil Chamber of Commerce (WTCC) Achiever Award in 2016. [6] She also received the Sadhanai Thamzhachi, boxer awards from the Governor. [10]


Light Fly, Fly High, a film directed by Susann Østigaard and Beate Hofseth, centres on Helen and depicts a young woman who literally fights for her independence and freedom from an unwanted marriage. [11] [12] The film also won the Oxfam Global Justice Award, the One World Media Awards and the Amanda Award for the Best Documentary. [13] The film was well-received and Dilip Berman of Saathee Magazine said, "The filmmakers have picked a unique angle to discuss entrenched patriarchy and how misogyny can be battled, though perhaps at personal cost." [13]

Helen also claims that the Tamil film Irudhi Suttru is based on her life, although she is not credited for it. [2] [14]

Personal life

After Helen's boxing club closed, she had to get married. However, she divorced her husband just after three months due to various restrictions that he had imposed on her like not working, having a Facebook account, making phone calls among others. [5]

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  3. ""ஏற்றிவிட வேண்டாம்... ஏணியைப் பறிக்காதீர்கள்!"". Vikatan. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
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  13. 1 2 "WOMEN MAKE MOVIES | Light Fly, Fly High". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
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