How India’s Small Town Girls Are Helping The Country Realise Its Olympic Dream

Indian women at olympics
India Olympic Medals: A 23-year-old girl from Assam’s Golaghat assured India its second medal at the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Olympics today. Lovlina Borgohain, who is contesting at the 69kg boxing event, has assured India a medal almost after a week of dry spell at the Games. The only other athlete to have finished on the podium so far is Mirabai Chanu, who clenched a Silver for us in weightlifting.

What’s common between Borgohain and Chanu? Both these young women athletes have battled economic challenges to reach where they are today, and both of them come from places that most of us would struggle, shamefully, to point out on the map of the country. They are not alone though, most medal hopefuls that we are rooting for this year come from nooks and corners of India that are far far away from the glitz and glamour of big cities.

Pooja Rani Bohra, the 30-year-old pugilist who will be fighting to make it through the women’s middleweight quarter-finals on July 31, belongs to Nimriwali village of Bhiwani district in Haryana. Meanwhile, Kamalpreet Kaur became the first woman discuss thrower from our country to have breached the 65m mark at the Olympics on July 31, securing a place in the final of the event. Like Chanu, Bogohain and Bohra, Kaur has had humble beginnings. The 25-year-old hails from a village named Badal in Punjab. She beat her own national record in discus throw with an attempt of 65.06 m at the Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships with a throw of 66.59 m.

These women have to not only fight financial and geographical constraints, that create challenges on every level from training to required diet and medical attention, but social stigmas as well, to pursue their dreams. Unlike girls from big cities, those who hail from small towns and villages have to bear intense social scrutiny for every little big choice they make for themselves in their life. In many parts of our country girls are still not encouraged to pursue sports. Who will marry a boxer? What kind of girl feels comfortable wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts in front of others, even if it is to lift weight? If she has no interest in studies, might as well marry her off, khel kood se kya mil jaega? The challenges they face know no end.

While Borgohain and Chanu were fortunate enough to have backing from their parents, Bohra had to hide her injuries from boxing practices, as her father felt that the sport wasn’t for women and disapproved the idea of his daughter pursuing it.

One of the key factors that drives these women to fight like there is no tomorrow, is that they are hungry for success, having put everything from their meagre resources to social standing, on the line. They have conquered social stigmas, fought tooth and nail to get access to proper training equipment and facilities, support staff etc., to make it to the Olympics. It shouldn’t have been so tough, no talent shouldn’t have to fight to hard, simply to gain access to facilities that would help shape their talent. But then this is India. We only care about athletes when they bring us glory, the rest are forgotten quickly.

Jharkhand’s athlete Geeta Kumari had to sell vegetables to make ends meet in 2020. She was later awarded financial assistance of 50,000 rupees and a monthly stipend of rupees 3,000 by the state’s chief minister as relief. Footballer Sangeeta Soren, who also hails from the same state, was working as a daily wage laborer at a brick kiln to support her family who had fallen on tough times during the lockdown. She was later appointed as a coach Football Day Boarding Centre for Girls’.

These are the stories that we know of. What about the stories that never get told? What about the small-town girls who are forced to give up the sport they love and married off instead? Do we ever realise the damage our oversight at the plight and challenges faced by women athletes, and men, costs us?

If we want more medals at the Olympics, if we want more star performers like Chanu and Borgohain, then merely cheering for these girls from sidelines when they make it big is not enough. Instead of romanticizing their struggles, let us pledge that we will create a better system for athletes, a fairer society for our girls so that more young talents feel encouraged to pick up bows, gloves and weights and make their country proud.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

Suggested Reading:

One Among Three Boxing Sisters, How Lovlina Borgohain Shined for India at the Olympics

Olympic Medalist Mirabai Chanu Appointed As Additional Superintendent Of Manipur Police

Punjab Village to Olympics : Discus Thrower Kamalpreet Kaur Has An Inspiring Story. Meet the Rookie