A decade ago, I remember watching Chak De! India and distinctly recollect the discourse it started. The prejudices and apathy that Indian women in sports faced, were brought to the mainstream like never before. The movie, in its own small way, initiated a much-needed conversation. And I naively began thinking that this will revolutionise the perception towards women taking up sports as a career in India. But like most trending topics in this country, the buzz died down eventually, and with little progress.
Here we are ten years later and the dialogue around Indian sportswomen has hit headlines again, thanks to the inspiring performance by our women’s cricket team in last month’s ICC World Cup. Yeah, I know! Cricket again? Don’t we have enough cricket news in this country already? But there is more to this. Last year’s Rio Olympics saw India win 2 medals and both by women which made the entire nation stand up and take notice. P.V. Sindhu in badminton and Sakshi Malik for wrestling, brought home glory, upstaging the Indian men in the International sporting event. For once, men’s cricket was not the only sport that Indian aam junta bonded over. Further, Dipa Karmarkar, with her death vault in gymnastics and 18-year old Aditi Ashok, India’s sole golfer and the youngest female golfer in Rio, stood out with their performances, despite missing out on the medal.
Positively enough, these names are just the tip of the iceberg. The number of Indian female sports icons has steadily been rising in a country that just knew of Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal for a long time now. And giving credit where it’s due, movies like Mary Kom and Dangal need to be lauded for bringing about awareness and attempting to inspire a new generation of sportswomen in the country. That’s the magic of success stories and victories. They inspire, encourage and create a certain kind of zeal in people.
However, there is still a long way to go and we’ll be stupid to deny it. Other than the zillion sports infrastructure hindrances that our country is grappling with, the core issue that needs to be addressed here, is the mindset.
‘Who will marry you?’
‘Your skin will turn dark’
‘You need to learn how to run the house’
‘You cannot wear THAT’.
Deeply rooted, fixed gender roles in society require men to be tough, self-reliant, aggressive and athletic. Whereas women are required to be hushed, submissive, attractive and delicate homemakers. When these gender stereotypes are breached, there are tags ready to be handed out: ‘You’re such a tomboy’, ‘She looks so masculine’, ‘You’re so bossy’. A quality of dishonour is linked to sporty and athletic women, which is inevitably utilised as a tool to further curb and restrain engagement of women in sports. To add to our woes, the ones who already are in the sporting field and could possibly be at the top of their game, have to still battle it out to even be acknowledged. Because well, women’s sport ‘doesn’t really matter’. THIS needs to be challenged and confronted. And thankfully, to some extent, we see it happen now. These girl-bosses have made it clear that they have dreams and aspirations beyond being ‘ladylike’.
Also, the media has a role to play here. They need to step in and actively dedicate coverage to these unsung heroes. The long-standing attitude of apathy, has to be bid adieu. Dangal was the top money churner of 2016, which shows that content on women in sports is ready to be lapped up by the audience. This momentum and buzz needs to be sustained and not be allowed to fizzle out, like it has in the past.
To conclude; for active participation of girls in sports, they do not have to be brought-up as boys. Parents on their part, just need to ensure that the girls never question and doubt what they can or cannot do, just because they’re girls. The world is their oyster, much like their male counterparts.Ravleen Khera (Author)