Social media feeds were full of praise for Sakshi Malik and P.V. Sindhu once they had won medals in their respective categories. Facebook and Twitter were rife with people acknowledging those achievements, then using them to try and further their personal agendas in some ways. The most common of these agendas was of course, ‘Save the Girl Child’, after all, they were the ones who got us medals at the Olympics. Here’s a message for all of those well-meaning folks; please do not use P.V. Sindhu & Sakshi Malik as anti-female-foeticide ads. Women don’t have to be achievers to deserve the right to live.
Beyond that, Sakhi and Pusarla’s victory was despite a government and system which has been geared to be indifferent to women, and not because of it.
One should not forget Dipa Karmakar as well, who did splendidly well in her category, and became India’s first gymnast to qualify for the final rounds. Of course, we’ll sooner end up seeing a Bollywood movie about these heroines before the Sports Ministry or the IOC implements a long term strategy for the development of sports in India – particularly for our superwomen.
Nay, this victory does not belong to the work of our government bodies, one could even go as far as to say that it does not belong to the nation either (though our women would be the first to disagree with the latter, since they did sweat blood and tears for the sake of India and its pride). Indeed, the victory solely belongs to the athletes and their years of hard-work, which finally gave them their just reward, while the sports ministry and the government were busy twiddling their thumbs and patting themselves on the back for past accolades.
“It’s the result of my 12 years’ fight for day and night,” this was what Sakshi had to say about her victory. But ask her about the kind of help and aid she got from government sources in all these years, and the answer would be a dismal one.
Their performances on the world stage which saw them win medals – or miss one by the smallest of margins in case of Dipa – were the result of single-minded, obdurate, determination to battle against all odds and emerge victorious at the end.
Most nations have greater regard for their athletes than India, in both financial and cultural terms, and though many of India’s best sports people have come from underprivileged sections of society, the authorities have usually left them to fend for themselves, with what support they can garner from families and coaches. For example, the Sports Authority of India had rejected Deepa Karmakar’s request to let her physio Sajad Ahmad to travel to Rio with her. For a country with medal aspirations and a ministry which keeps on making grand claims, they often shy away and deflect when it comes to walk the talk and spend money for the benefit of its athletes, while ministers and bureaucrats fly luxuriously to the games, only to create controversy and often sully the nation’s name.
In light of Sakshi, Pusarla and Dipa’s victories and performances, we should not just be celebrating and awarding them accolades, but looking at where we fell short in the treatment of our athletes, and making sure that we do better next time, that we prepare better, and give them the kind of treatment they deserve. After all, they will be donning our nation’s colours on the day of the games, and if we are willing to celebrate their achievement and glow in their reflected glory, it is also our duty to support them when the chips are down, when they are just beginning their journeys, and to egg them onwards.