“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family”
You will find hundreds of such proverbs highlighting the importance of educating a woman, but you would seldom come across such lines on women and sports. For, we are a nation that even today believes in the age old Hindi saying “Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge banoge kharab” (If you read and write you will live a kings’ life, but if you just play around you will not reach anywhere).
Hence, it comes as no surprise when India doesn’t do well at international sporting events. And even more sorry is the state of women sports in the country. Young girls are rarely encouraged to take up sports as a career. Now this has been the case year after year. It is what we have been hearing since our childhood. Isn’t it? But before this article starts sounding like yet another take on the sad status of women in sports in India, I would say that the year 2016 was pleasantly different.
Indian women come of age at the Rio Olympics
It was the year of the Olympics and while the men at the Rio games disappointed, the women contingent was India’s only saving grace in an otherwise dismal performance. A certain Pusarla Venkata Sindhu became a household name after she bagged silver in badminton at the Rio games. And wrestler Sakshi Malik was India’s other medalist, she won bronze in the women’s 58 kg category.
Sindhu’s & Malik’s heroics ensured that a nation of 1.25 billion did not have to return empty handed from the biggest celebration of sports in the world.
Some won medals while others won hearts
This was as far as the medals were concerned for the Indians. Then there were quite a few women athletes who although couldn’t win medals, but definitely won the hearts of everyone. This brigade of athletes who impressed one and all with their performances was lead by gymnast Dipa Karmakar. She became the first female gymnast from India to qualify for the final vault event at the Olympics and just missed out on the bronze medal finishing 4th in the finals.
Incidentally, she also became only the fifth woman in gymnastics history to land the Produnova vault which is considered as the hardest vault in women’s artistic gymnastics. (The Produnova is an artistic gymnastics vault consisting of a front handspring onto the vaulting horse and two front somersaults off)
The other female Olympians who won the accolades were wrestler Vinesh Phogat (who reached the quarter-finals but lost owing to a knee injury) and golfer Aditi Ashok. Despite being the youngest female golfer in the games, Aditi had an impressive debut. She was in fact tied at 8th position on the 14th day of the games before eventually finishing tied-41st.
Firsts in over three decade
There was another notable performance from long-distance runner Lalita Babar who became the first Indian since PT Usha to enter a final in any track event. She finally finished at 10th position. So, if Babar’s feat was the first for an Indian after 32 years; the Indian women’s field hockey team was not to be left behind. They qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years but failed to reach the quarter-finals.
Indian women were not to be left behind in even the Paralympic Games where Deepa Malik became the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic medal when she won the silver medal in shot put.
If everything is going on well then can cricketers be left behind?
Outside the Olympics, the Indian women impressed in the game of cricket where their men counterparts also had a spectacular year. The Indian women’s cricket team won the Asia Cup T20 defeating arch-rivals Pakistan in the finals.
Last but not the least, tennis star Sania Mirza won her sixth grand slam title (doubles & mixed doubles) at the Australian Open along with Martina Hingis.
Hope that this is just the beginning of good things to come
So, while there were notable performances from Indian men (like the Indian cricket team for instance); the year was a revelation of sorts for the Indian women. In my living memory; I cannot recall a year in which so many Indian sportswomen made the headlines with their remarkable performances.
The other heartening aspect was that some of these women did India proud in sports where we did not exist in the world sporting map like gymnastics or track events. And the best part is that most of these players are still young and if they continue in this fashion then only sky is the limit for them.
This trend augurs well for the future of Indian sports and “achhe din” (good days) for Indian sports are not far now. I just hope that this is just the beginning and the momentum continues. As they say, “Well begun is half done”.