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Five sports where Indian female players have shone 

PV Sindhu (left) and Saina Nehwal have been the leading light and the pathbreaker in every sense
PV Sindhu (left) and Saina Nehwal have been the leading light and the pathbreaker in every sense
Shruti Sinha

For women in India, their journey in the sports world hasn't been a smooth one. They have had to work twice as hard as the men to break free from the shackles of patriarchy and prejudice and stamp their own authority in the sports world.

Many have even had to go against their own families to fulfil their longstanding dreams of bringing laurels for their country. In many instances, their achievements have gone unnoticed and they have had to wage a battle just for recognition.

Despite all these hardships, Indian women haven't retreated. Rather more and more young girls have been inspired to take up sports in the past decade and help India in its bid to become a sporting powerhouse.

Today, on International Women's Day, we salute the spirit and tenacity of all these brave women.

Here's a look at five sports where Indian women have excelled:


#1. Badminton

Badminton in India has been taken to unimaginable heights by the country's two shuttle queens, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. The two girls have been the leading light and the pathbreaker in every sense. They have not only smashed down the formidable Chinese wall but have even inspired their peers to give their very best.

A series of firsts has been achieved by Saina and Sindhu which India could previously only dream of. Thanks to these girls, India has two Olympic medals from badminton, multiple World Championships medals, Commonwealth Games gold medals, Asian Games medals among others.

When Saina climbed to the pinnacle of the world rankings in 2015, it was the first time an Indian woman shuttler led the rankings and was indeed a moment to be remembered forever. Sindhu's BWF World Tour Finals win last year was the first time any Indian triumphed at the prestigious year-ending championships, showing how far the sport has progressed in the country.

In doubles too, the likes of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have excelled, bringing home a gold and a silver from the Commonwealth Games and a bronze from the World Championships. Ponnappa added another medal from Gold Coast Commonwealth Games alongside Sikki Reddy, swelling her resume further.

#2. Wrestling

Vinesh Phogat has been carrying the family name forward in recent times with her excellent performances
Vinesh Phogat has been carrying the family name forward in recent times with her excellent performances

Women's wrestling in India is synonymous with the Phogat family. What makes their story so unique is how they had to grapple with not only opponents on the mat but two other societal demons as well -- patriarchy and gender bias. It was Mahavir Phogat's staunch determination and unwavering focus that led to six wrestlers being produced from his family.

The journey was not at all easy, especially because the Phogat family hailed from Haryana's Bhiwani district where patriarchy was deep-rooted. Mahavir, with the support of his brother Rajpal, fought against Khap panchayats, naysayers in his own family and a lot of ridicule in Balali village to give India champions in wrestling.

When Mahavir's eldest daughter Geeta became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a Commonwealth Games gold in 2010, all his tireless efforts were rewarded. Geeta created further history when she qualified for the London Olympics in 2012.

Geeta's sister Babita too has several achievements to her credit. Two Commonwealth Games gold medals and a World Championships bronze medal stand out among them.

Mahavir's niece, Vinesh has been carrying the family name forward in the last few years with her excellent performances. In 2018, she etched her name in the annals of India's sporting history when she clinched the gold at the Asian Games. Apart from that, she has a couple of gold medals from the Commonwealth Games and multiple Asian Championships medals.

Vinesh was unfortunately struck down by an injury at the Rio Olympics but her and India's women's wrestling Olympic gold medal dream is still very much alive after Sakshi Malik's bronze from Rio.

#3. Boxing

That age is just a number, the legendary Mary Kom has been proving time and again
That age is just a number, the legendary Mary Kom has been proving time and again

That age is just a number, the legendary Mary Kom has been proving time and again. Even at 36, Mary has refused to slow down and her hunger hasn't diminished one bit.

It is her strong willpower that helped her to fight poverty and hardships in rural Manipur to find her true calling in boxing.

It was Dingko Singh's Asian Games gold medal in 1998 that inspired the young Mary to take up boxing gloves. Since then it was a challenging journey where she even had to hide her passion for boxing from her father lest it created problems for the family.

Mary's singular focus and never-say-die attitude, despite her petite frame, helped her flourish in the ring and made her an established name in the elite competitions. With the support of her husband Onler Kom, Mary took Indian boxing to absolutely another level.

She now has as many as six gold medals from the World Boxing Championships and is now the only woman in the world to do so. Gold medals followed from the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, besides a highly-coveted medal -- a bronze -- from the 2012 Olympics.

Even after having her resume embellished with so many accomplishments, Mary is not satisfied and still has her sights set on the Olympic gold medal that she missed and wants to aim for it in 2020.

Sarita Devi is another pugilist from the state of Manipur who has found a lot of success. A World Championships gold, several Asian Championships gold medals do justice to her talent.

Mary Kom and Sarita Devi have encouraged a lot of youngsters as well. The likes of former world junior champion Nikhat Zareen, former World Championship silver medallist Sarjubala Devi ensure Indian women's boxing's future is bright.

#4. Weightlifting

Mirabai Chanu is one of the best bets for a gold medal at Tokyo next year
Mirabai Chanu is one of the best bets for a gold medal at Tokyo next year

Karnam Malleswari showed the nation what is possible when she grabbed the bronze medal in Women's 69kg at the 2000 Sydney Olympics for India's first ever weightlifting medal from the mega quadrennial Games. It was the first time any Indian woman tasted an Olympic medal.

Even though Malleswari still remains as the only Indian to have won a weightlifting medal, the sport has churned out quite a few champions in the country over the years.

Manipur's legendary Kunjarani Devi, an Arjuna awardee, was an astonishing example of longevity with a glittering career that gave her more than 50 international medals. As many as seven silver medals from the World Championships left no doubt in anybody's mind that she was one of the very best. She also earned a couple of bronze from the Asian Games that added more to her legacy.

The most decorated Indian woman weightlifter showed the way to the current generation of which Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is the biggest talent. The 24-year-old already has a prestigious gold medal from the 2017 World Championships. She carried that impeccable form to the Commonwealth Games in 2018 to break the Games record and get the gold. It won't be an overstatement to say that she is one of the best bets for a gold medal at Tokyo next year.

#5. Shooting

Manu Bhaker has already been a sensation at the age of 17
Manu Bhaker has already been a sensation at the age of 17

India has found a bevy of stars in shooting over the years -- a sport that has consistently delivered at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Quite a few women have been a part of India's amazing march in the world of shooting.

Anjali Bhagwat was the first of the many women shooters from India to have left an indelible mark. She climbed to the summit of the world rankings in 10m Air Rifle and had an outstanding career that gave her 31 gold, 23 silver and 7 bronze medals, out of which four gold were from the Commonwealth Games.

Rifle shooter Apurvi Chandela was motivated to take up the sport after watching Abhinav Bindra capture the Olympic gold in Beijing. Her decision was richly rewarded with medals from the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Cup.

Heena Sidhu entered the record books in 2014 when she became the first Indian pistol shooter to be placed at the peak of the world rankings. Medals have flowed in from almost all the elite events including the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, the World Cup, topped by a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup Finals.

Pistol shooter Rahi Sarnobat made whole of India watch with bated breath when she held her nerves in a shoot-off on her way to India's first women's individual gold medal from the Asian Games in 2018.

With the arrival of the likes of Manu Bhaker and Mehuli Ghosh, Indian women's shooting looks set for a rosy road ahead. Bhaker has already been a sensation at the age of 17 with gold medals from the Commonwealth Games, the Youth Olympics and the World Cup.

19-year-old Ghosh has been equally impressive and has already grabbed silver medals from the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Youth Olympics.

Honorary mention: Apart from the above-mentioned names, many other Indian women have gone on to find glory in their chosen field, taking India to dizzying heights in sports. Our tribute would be incomplete if we don't mention the names of Sania Mirza, Dipa Karmakar, Deepika Kumari, Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jhulan Goswami, PT Usha, Anju Bobby George, Dutee Chand, Hima Das, Anjum Chopra, Aparna Popat, Swapna Burman, Seema Punia, Koneru Humpy, Rani Rampal, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal, Manika Batra.

Edited by Sripad

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