Did you just cringe? Well, you shouldn’t have. The nation that sent 117 athletes – 63 men and 54 women, in the Rio Olympics 2016, owes both the medals earned to the women. The women who gave world-class performances, defying all odds and showing killer instincts while saving the country’s face from returning empty-handed.
Sure the nation remembers the contribution Abhinav Bindra, Yogeshwar Dutt, Narsingh Yadav, Jitu Rai, Sandeep Kumar, Gopi T, Kheta Ram, Sathish Sivalingam, Dattu Baban Bhokanal, but the reason I am writing this article is because how much ever we deny it, ours is a male dominated country and it’s the women who have excelled in spite of that.
“You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru.
So what is the status of women in India? Well, today’s India offers quite a lot of opportunities to women, with women having a voice in everyday life, the business world as well as in political life. Constitutionally, women are even equal to men. As a woman, I am certainly glad I won’t have to jump in the pyre if my would-be-husband passes away. But in spite of all that, India remains a male-dominated society, where women are seen inferior or subordinate to men. Daughters are aborted, abandoned, buried alive and poisoned on a daily basis. Female infanticide is still prevalent in the 21st century as we speak. Women are seen as a liability – the weaker section.
But August 18, 2016, changed certain things – when a 23-year-old woman ended India’s medal drought at Rio this year and excelled in an event generally perceived as a man’s sport.
Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman wrestler to wear an Olympic medal after she clinched a bronze in the Women’s Wrestling. She became the fourth Indian woman to have an Olympic medal to her credit, after Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting), Saina Nehwal (badminton) and Mary Kom (boxing).
Her village being one of the most male-dominated areas in Rohtak, a 12-year-old Sakshi had to begin her training with boys. Shocked by her presence in a male camp and sport, the locals constantly warned Sakshi’s parents that her wrestling career would put an end to their dream of finding her a good potential husband. The Haryana government has announced a reward of ₹ 2.5 crores and a government job for the grappler. The internationally acclaimed wrestler and newly-appointed government employee would have to worry about none of that from now. She’ll choose to live her life on her own terms.
When the entire nation was frustrated and disappointed with no medal after two weeks of ‘so near, yet so far’ moments at the Rio Olympics 2016, it was this woman who brought us the first ray of sunshine at Rio. And this is what she has to say for herself:
The first Indian woman to win a silver medal in the Olympics created history and pulled an entire nation out of its games gloom with a stunning display of talent, power, and grace. This 21-year-old has entered the domain of intense public scrutiny reserved for the most elite of sportspersons. Although when India was rooting for the shuttler, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana were busy googling her caste. #SoItsNotJustAboutSexism #HelloCastism!
Dipa Karmakar – world famous as the Produnova girl – the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, stood 4th in the world with a stupendous performance but missed a bronze by 0.15 points. She’s the third woman in the world to land the Produnova vault, and when she landed the country exhaled.
“The one thing I do know is that everyone now knows the Produnova vault. I have probably made it more famous than Elena Produnova ever did!” Karmakar said with a laugh.
For many who don’t know what Produnova is – it’s also called the vault of death. A wee miscalculation and you can land on your neck or spine and perhaps be damned for life. Most gymnasts don’t even attempt the Produnova because of the risk involved. With just a few months of preparation, Dipa mastered the vault, hoping to clinch a medal at the Olympics.
“But on the flip side I am thinking, if I won a medal at my first Olympics, I would have lost the drive to improve even more. My goal is that I can take a medal back for India at the next Olympics. I will try my hardest to achieve that. Every gymnast wants to invent a skill that will bear their name so that they leave behind a lasting legacy. I too have that dream“, said Karmakar.
Arguably she’s called India’s shame as well. She had come as far as she did because of her grit and her coach’s perseverance. India had very little to do with it. From the difficulties, she faced with her training equipment to having her request denied of her longtime physiotherapist to accompany her to Rio, saying “You’re going alone, why do you need a physio?” He was only rushed there at the last minute when she qualified for the final.
As Olympic champion, Abhinav Bindra once said, “It’s only after you win that you get government attention. This sort of system and planning cannot produce champions.”
She became the second Indian woman to qualify for the final of a track event at the Olympics in 32 years (PT Usha being the previous one in Los Angeles 1984) and finished 10th.
And coming to the last of the list – Aditi Ashok.
This 18-year-old was the youngest golfer at the tournament and the only Indian woman golfer competing who successfully put India on the map in a sport that sees little popularity in the country. Started playing golf when she was five-and-a-half years old the country even had a chorus #AditiForGold for her. After all, as put by Rich Lerner , “medals do mean more than majors in her country”. She slipped away from being in top-10 at the end of the second round to finish 41st, but she’s won a billion hearts for sure.
These women bringing laurels to the nation has not just been a matter of national pride for Indians but also encouraged girls to break the gender stereotypes and take up sports.
But also, the tragedy of our Olympic story is that it is filled with these pinpricks of light – most of them come with the same against-all-odds story over and over again. It makes for an uplifting Bollywood script but shows the gaping holes in the ever-consistent sports policy. Have the lessons of their struggles made it any easier for the next generation of athletes? Or are we doomed to repeat that old Star Wars joke again and again? May the fourth be with us! PT Usha, Milkha Singh and now Dipa Karmakar. But that fourth, that almost-medal moment is important too. It is a reminder once again of both our potential and our failure to unlock it. The question is how many reminders will it take for us to act upon it? Or will we just be happy now that P.V.Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have saved the face of 1.3 billion people? Well, another day, another article.
For now let’s just cheer for these leading ladies creating history as we speak of, and their journey which has now become as they are inspiring a country of billions, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Until next time…… XOXO