Why Are We So Few?
If I start discussing the recent T20 cricket world cup held in March 2016, people would have a plethora of stories and anecdotes on Kohli’s performance, Dhoni’s captaincy, West Indies’ win, and a myriad other incidents and thrills to share. Very few would wait to think whether they are being asked about the Men’s world cup or the Women’s world cup.
When our entire country was cheering for the Men’s cricket team, only few of us knew that the Women’s T20 world cup was also in action, and here too the West Indies lifted the cup of victory. It’s a tad bit sad but just a few of us would really know the last match that the women’s cricket team won or that Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Laxmirani Majhi are the trio representing us at the Rio Olympics for archery. Let me ask you a simpler question – Can you name 10 Indian sportswomen?
Ok, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom…more? All right, Mithali Raj, Sarita Devi… That’s it? There are so many ladies out there who have created a mark for themselves in the world of sports and done our country proud. It is time they get their due recognition and applause.
Swami Vivekananda said “The best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women.”
It is amazing that in a country that boasts of such a large population, there are just a a few "known" sportswomen.
Maybe these are the reasons that there are such few Indian women in sports today;
I have no qualms blaming media for downplaying women sports as a whole. This year, the Indian women’s hockey team qualified for the Olympics after 36 long years. Yet there is hardly any news. Media does not forget playing and replaying controversial stories. Take Sarita Devi incident, for instance, when she denied the bronze medal during Asian Games. However, rarely any breaking news is spun around victorious stories of a woman chess player or kick-boxer because the men’s cricket team has to cover that slot. I hardly saw any coverage on ace biker Veenu Paliwal before she died during a tragic road accident in April this year. *Need more attention here*
Whether it is through events, schemes or scholarships, the government has a lot of control over the entire system so if it wishes to support a sport it can start the process right away! If we start going through government websites for sports initiatives we’ll come across a number of awards, scholarships, and pensions for meritorious players. The government should recognize such talent and provide them with state of the art facilities for training and practice. We come across so many sad cases of great players like Rishu Mittal (gold medalist in boxing), Situ Saha (bronze winner at Athens Special Olympics) who have been forced to take up activities like working as domestic help and gol gappa seller to arrange funding for pursuing their passion. Sonika Kaliraman, who won a silver medal at the national level, was denied a place in the Commonwealth Games. On insisting, the Wrestling Federation of India gave her a conditional offer of a place in top 3, if she beat 15 players. She broke the 73 kg weight category and defeated 14. Ultimately, she gave up and is now settled abroad.
In order to be physically fit to play a sport one has to give a lot of time and effort to the body. This could also mean making the body tough and strong through regular workout sessions, maintaining a good posture, perfect bone structure, and walking straight. But according to a research woman can’t follow these norms because society does not allow them to walk straight with their head held high and they should definitely not be muscular because then they will not fit into the rigid societal notions of what a lady should be like. This perception does play a role in keeping girls away from sports; if not them, then at least their parents. An Indian wrestler Geeta Phogat says "When I started wrestling my family had to face a lot of criticism from community elders…People said I would bring only shame to my family, no one would want to marry me". Ace tennis player Sania Mirza faced flak from the Muslim community for wearing short skirt while playing the game. They said "She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence." Even the world number 1 Saina Nehwal agrees "It's difficult to play any other sport in a cricket-mad country, especially if you are a woman".
Family and social responsibilities
Is the 21st century really that different from the 18th century? Think about it, the husband is still the breadwinner and wife is still the homemaker. Whether she works in a corporate firm, runs a boutique, cooks in a restaurant or is an international sports star, she is the one responsible for maintaining the house and raising children. In spite of the families giving approval for pursuing sports career, the ladies do not have the liberty to follow rigorous schedule with a free mind. When a married sportswoman goes for long late-evening practice session, very few families will be comfortable with such a scenario. But if the same situation arises for a sportsman, we all know how supportive everyone gets!
It is time to change our thoughts, breathe in the winds of change and take charge!