Indian women in sports are bringing laurels to the country and representing it on the world stage. It is only in the recent times that our society has shifted its gaze to our sportswomen and giving them their due. But it hasn’t been an easy ride for any of them in fact every sportswoman’s journey can inspired a Bollywood movie be it squash champion Deepika Pallika, heptathlete Swapna Barman or boxer Simranjit Kaur. They are not just pioneers in their respective sports but also have journeys to reckon with.
- Squash champion Deepika Pallika was the first Female Squash player to be conferred with the Arjuna Award, India’s second highest sporting award in the year 2012.
- Boxer Simranjit Kaur recently won a gold medal in the 23rd President’s Cup International Boxing Tournament.
- Arjuna Awardee and Heptathlon gold medalist Swapna Barman has 12 toes, is of a height and weight not so “desirable” for an athlete. She joined sports so that she could get a job to provide for her family.
“Squash is not a very well-known sport in the country so when I was growing up we didn’t have much infrastructure or good coaches. So it was very difficult for me to go and train with the best in the sport and surround myself with opportunities that could make my career.
When I was 13 I did not know what I was getting into but my family pushed me and supported me to build my career in this sport. At 13 you don’t really know much and I boarded a flight to Cairo, Egypt where I did not have a clue about the language. My mother set up my apartment and comes back to India because I have two more sisters. So I have literally been alone since the age of 13. I was in Egypt for five years then Australia for two years and then back to Eygpt so the struggle has constantly been there but I think the reason why I am where I am today is definitely because of that push that my family gave.” shares Pallikal, who is the first Indian to break into the top 10 in the Official Women’s Squash World Ranking, at an event in Delhi on September 13. She also became the first Female Squash player to be conferred with the Arjuna Award, India’s second highest sporting award in the year 2012.
“My elder sister and two younger brothers used to do boxing but I never showed much interest but my mother prodded me to start boxing. It was her dream to see both her daughters to join the sport and make a name for ourselves”
Her story of family support to handle the struggles of the sport resonates with Simranjit Kaur, who belongs to Punjab and recently won a gold medal in the 23rd President’s Cup International Boxing Tournament. For her it was her mother and sister who encouraged her to take up the sport. “My elder sister and two younger brothers used to do boxing but I never showed much interest but my mother prodded me to start boxing. It was her dream to see both her daughters to join the sport and make a name for ourselves. Once I started participating in the sport I fell in love with it. When I started off, we didn’t have any financial support. We would have regular meals and even milk was a luxury and to buy gloves and other gears wasn’t even a possibility,” Kaur recounts her journey.
Arjuna Awardee and Heptathlon gold medalist, Barman’s story is one that shows that if one has grit and dedication then no hurdle is challenging enough to overcome. She was demoralised at every point in her career until she made it. She has 12 toes, is of a height and weight not so “desirable” for a heptathlete and over and above all of this she comes from an extremely impoverished family that belongs to Jalpaiguri area of West Bengal. Not much of a talker, all she says is, “I am glad I could make it.”
“I joined sports so I could get a job to provide for my family and while I didn’t get a job, I got much more than that.”
“I joined sports so I could get a job to provide for my family and while I didn’t get a job, I got much more than that. When I started out, because of my six toes, I would dread wearing shoes because it would pain a lot but things changes drastically after the Asian Games,” she says.
A sport isn’t a man’s arena anymore with women athletes breaking records across the board. The responsibility now lies on the society and the authorities to make sports accessible for all young girls in the country. Not just when they win medals but also when they begin their journeys in sports.