At a time when millions of women in India are pushing for their rights and demanding equal opportunities, history was being created in far off Glasgow during the XXth edition of the Commonwealth Games. India came home with 64 medals including 15 golds with the women contingent alone winning 27 of those medals, with 5 gold medals. The women athletes fought against the traditional views of the system to pursue their dreams, but the journey has been far from easy.
The hurdles faced
Widely regarded as a "man's" game, weightlifting, boxing and wrestling won us a number of medals in the women's category with Sanjita Khumukcham winning India its first medal in the Games when she bagged gold in the 48kg weightlifting. The girls won a total of 6 medals for in weightlifting, giving the other athletes confidence to carry on their good work.
Women's boxing, which made its debut at this year’s CWG saw 3 players compete, with 2 returning with a medal. Pinki Jangra, who defeated Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom in the trials, returned with bronze while L Sarita Devi won silver. Indian wrestling, synonymous with Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, got new heroes at the Games when the likes of Vinesh Phogat and Babita Kumari clinched gold and 4 other players winning a medal. Vinesh, the cousin of Seema Phogat, thanked her family for support. "I would not have been here without my family members, who have always been there for me and my 2 cousin sisters, even when society was against them."
The three women medalists in judo too could not have reached the podium if not for the continuous support accorded by their loved ones. Although the Women's hockey team did not inspire much in Glasgow, finishing fifth, they fought against the federation and the payment issues and 19 year old Rani Rampal is hopeful the struggle would have made them stronger. She yearns for support that the men's team receives, so that they can do the nation proud. Seema Poonia, silver medalist in the discus throw, is proud she got a chance to be India's flag bearer at the closing Ceremony and wishes the girls can bring more laurels for the nation.
Though the road to the top seems a little easier for the shooters, squash players and badminton stars, owing to the fact that they are born in urban areas, contrary to belief the journey has been full of obstacles. Jwala Gutta accused the federation of discrimination against her and reveals how the society asked her to quit playing after she married fellow badminton star Chetan Anand. "My distant relatives even blamed my playing career for our divorce in 2011. I wish these would just stop", says the silver medalist at the 2014 CWG, who along with Ashwini Ponappa handed India its 4th badminton medal after PV Sindhu, in the absence of Saina Nehwal had won bronze.
The golden girls of squash Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa have been on the circuit for a while, but feel the lack of sponsors in Indian women's sports hampers young girls from taking up the game.
The silver lining amongst the gloom
For the shooting contingent, 7 of the 17 medals won were by the fairer gender. However,things are a little easier for them as they receive adequate backing from the federation as well as the government. Gold medalist in the 10m Air Rifle Apurvi Chandela has been funded by the Rajasthan government since 2013 and the Olympic Gold Quest supports 8 women shooters, including 16 year old Malaika Goel, who won her first silver medal in the senior level and Anisa Sayyed, another silver medal winner from Haryana. If this confidence can be shown on the other players, there is no reason why India can't better it's performance in the international arena.
Although Krishna Poonia could not repeat her gold winning performance of Delhi this year, she says she is lucky to have a husband, who is also her coach who inspires and always motivates her. Pinki Jangra feels most parents encourage the young girls to play, but the demons within the society think otherwise. She is glad her parents supported her wish to represent India.
PT Usha needs no introduction, but it is little known that she faced a lot of criticism when she voiced her dreams of taking part in the Olympics. In order to help the young girls, she has opened an academy which looks after their training as she is aware "the parents from the rural areas won't spend much in girls sports." She scouts for talented girls in Kerala and also coaches Tintu Luka, the national record holder in running.
Piyush Sachdev, founder of Women Sports Federation rues many Indians do not even know the names of the women athletes who dedicate their entire lives for the glory of the country, but don't hesitate in avidly watching football where their own country isn't even competing. He pleads, "the women athletes are worthy of respect and recognition and it's high time they got their due."
It is high time we shifted our focus from Cricket and promote sports especially among women. They should be given a chance to bring accolades for the country and more importantly be given an opportunity to be proud of themselves The CWG performance will go a long way in sending a message to Indian society who look down upon them and hopefully it can inspire more girls to take up sports, so that they too can do the country proud.Published 05 Aug 2014, 13:08 IST