Girl Power at Rio
It was exhilarating to note the spontaneous manner in which the entire country went gaga over the performance of two of its “daughters” at the Rio Olympics. Pusarla V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have saved India from the disgrace of getting zilch medals at the Games. When Sindhu bagged a Silver in Women’s Badminton and Sakshi a bronze in Women’s Wrestling, Indians across the board celebrated woman power at Rio, particularly in the backdrop of an atrocious tweet by a writer: “Goal of Team India at the Olympics. Rio jao. Selfies Lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity.”
Immediately after the tweet thousands of Indians had reacted angrily and unanimously, saying that in a country like India, which encourages, and can find money, for no other sport except cricket, for our sportspersons to even qualify for the Olympics was a tremendous achievement. We’ve all known for long years that whether it is Olympics or other international and national sports events, while the sports officials travel in comfort, get great accommodation and food, the sportspersons have to rough it out.
Champions don’t emerge from nowhere; they have to be identified at a young age, nurtured, encouraged, cajoled, trained relentlessly, disciplined (Sindhu’s mobile was taken away by her coach Gopinath for three months) and supported by the government. If Abhinav Bhindra could get a gold at the last Olympics in an expensive sport such as air rifle shooting, it was because he was rich enough to pursue and train for it. Unfortunately, this time he missed a bronze by a whisker.
Among the first to express outrage at the derisive tweet was my sister-in-law, a national champion in the 1970s in long jump in the junior category. She’d also participate in hurdles and other track events, and would travel all over India for various State and national meets. For the athletes it was travel in Third Class compartments, often unreserved, stay in dirty, cramped quarters, inadequate food, etc, while the officials travelled First Class, stayed in good hotels and were pampered.
Returning to girl power at Rio, apart from Sindhu and Sakshi, gymnast Deepa Karmakar, from tiny Tripura, almost made it to a bronze, getting the fourth place; Lalita Babar made it to the finals of the Women’s 3000 metres steeplechase, and Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna made it to the Tennis Mixed doubles quarterfinals.
While it is great to watch India celebrating Sakshi and Sindhu’s Olympian glory, I could not help wondering whether this feat by two Indian women would make any difference to our shrinking gender ratio because India kills tens of thousands of girl babies in the womb every year. A study done by the University of Toronto a decade ago in 1.1 million households across India on the selective aborting of female foetuses found that far fewer girls were born to couples if their preceding child/children were female. When the firstborn child was a daughter, the sex ratio for the second child fell steeply, compared to the first born being a male child.
Indian Rotarians are acutely aware of this; the Jaipur Institute put the spotlight on this shame of India, which is a big problem in Rajasthan, as several other States. When my colleague Jaishree interviewed AKS member Suresh Poddar, also from Jaipur, he expressed great concern about female foeticide rampant in the region and said he likes to focus on the girl child.
Will an Olympics medal, or two, by India’s daughters change all this? Doubtful. Until the time Indian women, across the board, are educated and economically empowered to take control of both their lives… and wombs. Did you watch Sakshi’s mother’s reaction as her daughter was declared a winner? Such a beautiful testimony of the priceless mother-daughter bond!