Could I say you have to be living under a rock in India if you don’t know about the legendary father who defied the patriarchal society in Haryana and trained his daughters into becoming national wrestling champions. The father in focus here is Mahavir Singh Phogat who trained his daughters Geeta and Babita along with other daughters and niece into becoming world-class wrestlers. Phogat was honoured with the FLO Icon of the year award by finance minister Arun Jaitley on 14 April at the 33rd annual session of FICCI FLO.
Even today in Haryana, if a girl who goes to school gets 20 minutes late in coming back home, her parents start worrying for her well-being – Mahavir Singh Phogat
It was because of his belief in his daughters’ ability that led Geeta to win the gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth championship. As a young wrestler who gave up his dreams to work as clerical staff, Phogat waited for his son to arrive until his wife had four daughters back to back. One day he realised his daughters could be wrestlers too and that’s when the story changed for him. He started training his daughters at a very young age and fought society’s regressive view that constantly discouraged him from doing so. Phogat built the ‘akhada’ space for his daughter as at that time there was no place for girls to train in wrestling in Haryana. He challenged stereotypes of how a girl should be raised, emerging as a hero not just in his own village but also in the entire country.
Talking to SheThePeople.TV about the state of girls in Haryana and how it changed from the times he started training his Geeta to the time when she won at the Commonwealth championship, he said, “Even today in Haryana if a girl who goes to school gets 20 minutes late in coming back home, her parents start worrying for her well-being. However, I was never that way since the beginning. I always thought that if I get daughters, then I will raise them just like I would have raised sons. And this is the kind of change I am witnessing now in the state after 2010.”
He said Haryana will show improvement in gender parity in the next decade.
Phogat never let her daughters watch films in their childhood as he thought that it will hamper their focus in the game. Now that a film has changed the family’s lives, he is of the view, “I believe that their childhood was the time when watching films could have diverted their focus from the game. But now that they are married and have grown up and understood the gravity of their game, they are free to live their lives as they want and that includes watching films as well.”
His struggle was real but true fame came when the movie ‘Dangal’ — based on their lives — hit the cinema screens and spread the achievements and popularity of this wrestling family.
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