There can’t be a better time to celebrate India’s stellar show at the CWG than the month the nation is observing 75 years of Independence. Sport has been a vehicle of growth for all, especially for women. It has helped them gain self-esteem, courage and a force with which to smash the hurdles of patriarchy and stigma. It has the power to unite everyone.
When Saikhom Mirabai Chanu dropped the barbell with a successful 109 kg lift, a thunderous applause roared through the hall. Chanu only stepped back gently, with her usual smile and humble ‘Namaste’. Everyone was awed by the way Chanu went on to not only register India’s first Gold this Commonwealth Games, but also to write a new record to her name. This is after Sanket Sargar’s silver and P Gururaja’s bronze, which opened India’s account.
For 11 days, the entire nation was following up on this mega event with bated breath. As the curtains fell, a triumphant Indian contingent returned with one of the best performances at the Commonwealth Games with 61 medals – 22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze, that too without inclusion of shooting, one of our strong points. There cannot be a better time to celebrate this victory than the month the nation is observing 75th Independence Day as part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.
On the brink of victory, all athletes also resonated their stories of perseverance and agility in the face of adversity. These stories may be more challenging for women contingent, who triumphed not only the bars set by their immediate competitors, but also the bars set by society, family, and other external authorities. From Sushila Devi Likmabam, and Tulika Maan’s individual silver in Judo to Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat’s individual gold in wrestling; from Nitu Ghangas and Nikhat Zareen’s individual gold to PV Sindhu’s gold in badminton, we’ve seen some incredible performances this year. Our women’s hockey team also clinched bronze in a nail-biting match.
Apart from the regular action, India also awakened to witness a ‘new’ sport, Lawn Balls, where our Women’s fours team struck gold. Progressing slowly but with great precision and dedication in a sport that was almost alien to an entire nation, and then winning the first ever medal and that too gold, is truly incredible. It is interesting to note that the team comprising Rupa Rani Tirkey, Lovely Choubey, Pinki Singh and Nayanmoni Saikia all had different beginnings.
Rupa was once a kabaddi player, Nayanmoni a weightlifter, Pinki a cricketer, while Lovely was a sprinter. They all chose to tread on a path less taken and have achieved glory in that.
The glory, however, is not singular for women in sports. As much as it is imbibed with the hurdles of the past, going ahead, it provides a sense of empowerment to them, an empowerment sport is providing in current times. Sport has the power to unite everyone irrespective of caste, creed, or gender in achieving the ultimatum both personally and professionally. We shall, however, also acknowledge how some world events included women’s participation in some sports very lately.
Women’s Boxing, for example, where we have our champions Mary Kom, Nikhat Zareen, and the likes, was only introduced at the 2012 London Olympics for the first time. Women’s cricket, on the other hand, debuted only at the Commonwealth Games, where our team made us proud with a silver.
Nevertheless, sport has been a vehicle of growth for all, especially for women for years. It has helped them gain self-esteem, courage, and a force to smash the hurdles of patriarchy and societal stigma. With modernity steeping in, as society progressed, we saw various upliftment in sports around the world. Several champions have been born, who are not only medal winners, but also leaders and advocates for their sport and for budding players. This virtue of leadership is something sport teaches us all.
Let us also not shadow the fact that most of our women sportspersons come from rural, underprivileged areas. It is with their thriving efforts that they earn some bread and due respect.
It is hence upon us to make better provisions with collective efforts so that our girls get the required support and assistance right from a young age to prosper in their respective sports. With proper recognition and equal opportunities, women can be great movers of society and the nation’s economy.
In today’s fast-moving world, the hurdles faced by our women players might be different. Some are ridden with poverty, some with societal stigma and gender discrimination, some don’t have required infrastructure, and some struggle under the wrath of patriarchy. It is hence imperative to say when a Chanu, Nikhat, or Sindhu win, they inspire a million others who await that glimmer of light, hope and accomplishment to take a step forward.
Therefore, to grow as a society and nation for a better tomorrow, we should empower our women through sports. Because, every time they kick a ball, it is not only the ball but also the shackles that are tied to them; every time they lift up a barbell, it is not only the plates they lift up, but all hurdles they face, before crashing it down to the ground.