Vinesh and Sakshi's Olympics berth a new page in the story of female wrestling in India

Olympic qualification by Indian female wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik will not only give boost to wrestling but would also give a new thrust to women in sport at large.

Vinesh’s cousin Geeta was the first Indian woman wrestler in Olympics in London in 2012. It gave a major push to the sport in the country. Now with two more there, wrestling is sure to reach greater heights.

As we celebrate the participation of two Indian women wrestlers in the Olympic Games, one cannot forget the pioneering role played by late Master Chandgi Ram, a former Asian Games champion in wrestling. In the late eighties, Chandgi Ram initiated his two daughters Deepika and Sonika into the game. Once young Deepika came home crying and complained to his father about eve teasing. Instead of sympathy she got a whacking from her father. He sent her back to the spot ordering her to fight it out with boys. Lesson learnt both Deepika and her younger sister Sonika became top-flight wrestlers.

Indian female wrestler Vinesh Phogat. AP

Indian female wrestler Vinesh Phogat. AP

Chandgi Ram later forced his disciple Mahavir to push his daughters into wrestling. This gentleman Mahavir was none other than the father of now well-known Phogat sisters Geeta and Babita.

Vinesh, having lost her father early, came under the wings of her uncle Mahavir to complete the Phogat trio.

Initiating in sport is one thing but fighting the odds in a closed male dominated rural set up in a small Haryana village was a challenging task for Mahavir and the three aspiring wrestlers. Despite severe objections by village elders Mahavir went on training these young girls. Today they are pride of the nation.

Sakshi Malik had the same predicament. Coming from another Haryana hamlet Rohtak, Sakshi joined coach Ishwar Dhaiya’s akhara (Sand pit for traditional wrestling) at Chotu Ram Stadium in 2004. But again like Phogats, she and her mentor Dhaiya had to face a stiff resistance from orthodox village folks. Initially girls had to practice wearing salwar kameez. It was a gold medal for his young trainee Suman Kundu in the sub junior national that somewhat changed the mindset of the village people.

Training with boys was completely forbidden for these girls. In fact girls were not even allowed to join the akhara or training centre. It was an interesting incident that opened doors for girls at Dhaiya’s training centre.

One day a young girl Sunita accompanied by her brother went to Dhaiya for seeking admission at the centre. She must have been around 13 or 14. Mistaking her for a boy Dhaiya allowed her. But later in the evening he realised she was a girl. But he felt odd telling her to go back. And that laid the foundation of women’s coaching at his centre.

The current crop of women wrestlers is no less then their counterparts from big metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Chennai. Highly tech-savvy they are heavily into social media with their expensive iPhones, wear designer clothes and carry them selves admirably well. Most of them are on good positions in Police and Railways.

Abundantly talented Sakshi always remained a bridesmaid behind the queen of women’s wrestling Geeta. She won the silver medal at Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and later added an Asian Games bronze in Incheon in 2014.

A loner by nature and generally a reserve person took full advantage of god sent opportunity when Geeta was sent back, allegedly due to `indiscipline’.

No doubt the challenge in the Olympic qualifiers was a bit easy for Vinesh and Sakshi in the absence of some top athletes who have already made the grade for Rio. But participating in the Olympic can give a high to both and who knows at Rio we may see a podium finish by an Indian woman wrestler.

Updated Date: May 10, 2016 09:49 AM