"We need to start looking at everyone as a sportsperson and not as a man or a woman," says Jwala Gutta
India’s star doubles shuttler Jwala Gutta has always been known for her fighting spirit -- be it on the court or off it. Never one to back off, she has always stood up and raised her voice for what she believes is right.
It is her sheer courage that makes her stand out in a country where women are forced to keep quiet. From fighting for equal rights to hitting back at her detractors, the 35-year-old Arjuna awardee has done it all with aplomb, and still continues to do it even today.
Naturally, the exemplary Gutta has been an obvious choice for being an ambassador of the Levi’s #IShapeMyWorld campaign that celebrates the power of women and their determination to inspire change.
Sportskeeda caught up with the feisty and fiery badminton champion on the sidelines of the event. In an exclusive chat, Gutta spoke about discrimination, gender inequality and some of the major issues that continue to hamper progress, apart from how more women can be involved in sports.
Here are the excerpts:
Q: As a woman trying to make a mark in the world of sports, what kind of discrimination did you face?
A: Discrimination is there at various levels. Being a woman, I was expected to keep my head down and play my game which I did not because I believe in being outspoken and voicing my opinions, especially when I feel they are right. Male sportsmen are awarded for their confidence and personality, whereas a woman is told to stay in her line. We need to start looking at everyone as a sports-person and not as a man or a woman.
Q: You have said in your Levi's video that seniors openly told Jwala can't play badminton at the highest level, when you were a junior. Did that, in a way, make you battle-ready for the harder years ahead?
A: I was always motivated and determined, I was my biggest supporter. So, hearing such criticism and opinions, I guess it was just fuel to the fire. Also, that same year, I won junior as well as senior nationals
Q: Even though women have progressed in sports and have brought so many laurels, unfortunately a lot of attention still remains on their attire or on-court fashion, rather than their achievements. How do you think this mentality can be changed?
A: I believe this paradigm shift can be achieved when women are not perceived as women who play sports but rather a sportsperson. Countless women are shamed before they even step on the court or field because of their personal choices or opinions.
Q: You have never shied away from voicing your opinion on what you feel is right. In a world where women mostly have to quietly suffer, how important is it for young girls to learn to stand up and raise their voice for what they believe in?
A: It is very important for not only women, but for everyone to voice their opinions and not quietly suffer. This is the only way to not allow anyone to take advantage of you and think you are weak.
Q: Since celebrities have a major responsibility of shaping up the society, don't you feel that they need to speak up more, that can help to bring about a change?
A: Yes definitely. Celebrities need to speak up against such unjust practices so that a change can be brought. Some of these individuals have a big influence on society at large, and advocating for such issues will go a long way.
Q: You have been one of the most opinionated, courageous and strong-willed women in India. How do you inspire yourself everyday to keep fighting back the critics?
A: I just live my life by what I believe is right. I have always stuck by my virtues that were instilled in me while growing up and similarly, I just keep my chin up and head strong and carry on with my daily activities. I either ignore all the criticism or take it constructively and focus on my goals.
Q: What more steps do you think need to be taken to encourage more women into sports in India as well as ensure the gender equality in sports?
A: Initiatives such as the Badminton League gives a good boost to the sport. Such activities need to be well promoted across cities and even rural areas of the country. That will have an equal, if not more emphasis on young women athletes taking up the sport.
Q: What would be your message to young girls growing up, who aspire to be like you?
A: Keep your feet on the ground and focus on what you started out for. Stay true to your values -- it will not only make you a better player, but also a stronger and better person.Published 27 Sep 2018, 21:14 IST