Band of Sisters
One has had a few disagreements with many people who have been dismissive of even harbouring the idea of India as a potential sporting powerhouse. India doesn't have the requisite resources, willpower and the organisation needed to churn out champions consistently. It doesn't have a 'sports culture' and can never hope to get one in the near future. One has written a few times about this and argued that if we as sports lovers have to produce sportspersons in spite of the system, so be it. There have been some notable examples where it worked (Abhinav Bindra, Sania Mirza, Vishwanathan Anand) and some cases where the 'system' hasn't been a hindrance (Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh, Sushil Kumar) and, in fact, actually helped.
'Sports as Khel-kood' as the rationale, was first used by Mihir Bose in the 1980's in his seminal work 'A Maidan View', is still being reproduced by the same sports historian to comment on the current sporting affairs in India. The basic argument goes thus; 'If a child in our country returns from the playground, he is not asked
by his parents how he fared, but slapped for missing his studies and
wasting his time. Sport is against our Indian ethos, our cultural
Reading the heart warming story of Geeta Rani and Babita Kumari at the Delhi CWG makes one realise that the pessimistic view on India's sporting future may not be a very well informed one. Let's take the facts in this case. The 2 sisters come from Bhiwani in Haryana. Haryana, is one of the worst perpetrators of female infanticide in this country. Wrestling, that too around 10 years back, would be the last choice of a sport of a father for his daughters. The social stigma, the potential difficulties in getting the daughters wedded and the financial pressures would be quite insurmountable for Mahabir Singh Phagot. The duo has another sibling sister Ritu, who is also a wrestler. And to top it, the two daughters of his elder brother are also training to be wrestlers. The family boasts of 5 wrestlers among their women folk. As an aside Anita, who also won a gold medal in wrestling at the CWG, comes from the same village.
Reports say that some villagers scorned and even tried to dissuade the girls when they started practising in their backyard. What has gone unwritten is the taunts, the leery talk by the other boys, the innuendo and a highly stressful social life that a girl would go through as a price for her choice of a 'man's profession'. Phagot got no financial backing from the government in spite of his continual chasing. The girls practiced with thier male cousins in a mud Akhada. Their request for a mat was turned a blind eye to by the state sports federation. The same villagers and the Fedreation were cheering for the 2 girls this week and profess to be extremely proud of them. Geeta won Gold medal, Babita lost a Gold medal and had to settle for a silver. Bollywoodish, no?
One will admit that this is but one solitary example and can't be taken as a pointer to changing mindsets. Also it's only the CWG and not an Olympics. But what Geeta Rani and Babita Kumari have started may soon turn into an avalanche and a majority of Indian parents won't deem sports as Khel-kood and prove Mr. Bose wrong. One is sure that even Mihir Bose will be happy for once to be proved thus.