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Has The Indian Sports Scenario Really Taken Off?

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By Akshay Modi:

In a country as diverse as ours, there is very little common ground that defines our DNA. I can count laziness, corruption, and of course, sports. But the sad fact remains that though we score really high in the first two categories (ranked as the 87th most corrupt nation in the world), we have been unable to stamp the same kind of authority in the sporting arena, which we are so passionate about. For a nation with a population of 1.2 billion people, we have been embarrassingly poor performers in sports as a whole.

It must be noted that our cricket team has always been a world-beating side. In the Davis Cup, India has always gone with a psychological advantage of being virtually assured of a 1-0 lead. Our old war horses, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati, have a 25-2 win record in the tournament. Chess genius Vishwanathan Anand has been a champion in the sport for quite a long while now. Thus we see that we are not a nation devoid of sporting talent. Rather, we have been unable to scout for more talent in our country.

But the year 2010 has been nothing less than revolutionary in Indian sports. A string of impressive performances in various disciplines has certainly put India on the world sporting map. In a year marked by corruption scandals, uneven rainfall, phone-tapping, and Rajinikanth jokes, the Indian sporting story has brought a welcome relief to a nation thirsting for positive news.

The Indian cricket team had a good year, despite a poor show in the T20 world cup. They retained the number 1 rank in test cricket, even beating Australia 2-0 in the 2-match series, and were unbeaten at home. They also proved themselves to be the champions of the sub-continent by winning the Asia Cup.

But it was the events off the field that brought Indian cricket in bad light. The fiasco surrounding the allegations of misappropriation of funds by Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, his unceremonious axing and all the issues surrounding it, including the political repercussions (Shashi Tharoor was made to tender his resignation owing to charges of corruption), captured the imagination of the country. But Team India ensured that the country’s flag in the cricketing world would fly high for the right reasons only, thanks to consistent performances throughout the year.

The hockey team had given a better performance compared to previous years. Things are once again looking bright for the once taken-for-fallen giants. In F-1, India’s second ever driver took the seat, as Karun Chandhok took the wheels behind the Lotus team. Though his stint was short, Vijay Mallya owned team Force India had a good season, finishing 7th.

But the real launch pad, where sports dominated all the headlines, was the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Another event marred by high-level corruption allegations, the Games were, prior to the opening ceremony, seen to be an embarrassment to the nation. When the chips were really down, who comes to our rescue but our athletes! An unmatched performance by them, winning 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze medals, took India to the 2nd place in the medals tally, our best performance in the Games.

The overall success of the CWG is composed of many smaller success stories, which shows tremendous promise for the future. Boxing, archery, shooting and wrestling contributed to the medal tally in a big way. Krishna Punia led India to a 1-2-3 victory in the discus throw event. The women’s 4×400 relay gold is also fresh in our memories.

The Indian contingent continued its good showing a month later in the Guangzhou Asian Games. 64 medals, comprising of 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze; once again our best showing in the Asiad. Virdhwal Khade became the first medal winner ever from India in swimming with a bronze. The women’s 4×400 relay team repeated their gold-winning performance. Ronjan Singh Sodhi, a relatively obscure shooter, had a tremendous Games, bagging gold in almost all the possible categories he participated with world records.

Vijender Kumar, the Olympic bronze-medalist boxer, had a good year too. Failing to win the gold at the Commonwealth Games spurred him on to win 2 gold medals at the Asian Games. Along with Akhil Kumar, Vikas Kishan and others, Vijender is to lead India’s charge at the 2012 Olympic Games.

It has been widely said that India is already assured of a gold at London 2012. MC Mary Kom, a mother of two, epitomizes the spirit of India. She has now won five consecutive World Boxing Championships.

The year saw the coming of age of Somdev Devvarman. From helping to script historical wins in the Davis Cup to beating higher-ranked players on the tour, Somdev is showing the promise Indian men’s tennis has been lacking for decades now. The Asian Games gold is another feather in his cap. There is no doubt that young Somdev will only get better.

It has been a memorable year for the other famous Indian tennis celebrity, Sania Mirza. This may not necessarily be because of her exploits on the court, but because she got hitched this year to Pakistani cricket Shoaib Malik (this too not without its controversies). But she did surprise us all with a silver medal in the CWG, showing she still has amazing tennis left in her.

Saina Nehwal had often complained of being confused with Sania. But her recent performances have helped her develop an identity of her own. With four Super Series wins this year, she is the 2nd ranked badminton player in the world. She also won the gold at the CWG. She marked off the disappointment at the Asiad by winning the Hong Kong Super Series, thus ending the year in style.

Ever since Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal at Beijing, shooting has all of a sudden come to the limelight. Leading India’s shooting stars, in a year of mixed results, was Gagan Narang, who certainly had a great year. He was India’s top medal winner in the Commonwealth Games, with 3 golds.

It was perhaps Sushil Kumar who had the best year. With the World Championship win in Moscow and also the CWG gold, he has put India on the world wrestling map.

But if I had to pick my favourite sportsperson of the year, I would go back to cricket. While ordinary mortals like myself can just keep counting, there is a man who has been playing the game for 21 years, and is the holder of most of the records for batsmen the game of cricket can offer. Just when we think that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has achieved all that he could, he proves us wrong with another gem of an innings and another record. 200 runs in an ODI was inconceivable before the Master conquered this Mount Everest of cricket. And now completing 50 test centuries. I have now stopped guessing.

But as things are, the year wasn’t all that rosy. There have been unflattering moments too. The controversy surrounding the Indian women’s hockey time, the alleged sexual harassment, shocked the nation into disbelief. Also, many weightlifters brought shame to the nation after testing positive for banned substances.

Thus we see that Indian sports is a mixed bag at the moment. We are performing well even in those disciplines where we have really underperformed in the past. Things are really looking up for us now. Though we cannot call ourselves sporting superpowers yet, we do have the potential and the spirit to be there. All it takes now is that “extra push”.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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