By Impuri Ngayawon:
I write to you on behalf of all the girls who love sports and have been great examples of how sports can change lives and empower girls in India and make them real champions. Not just at the Rio Olympics, but in many more to come. As I read the news of your appointment as India’s goodwill ambassador at Rio Olympics, I could not help but also read the debates that followed on whether you were the right choice or not. I will leave it to the nation to decide. But today, I want to share stories of girls who have chosen sports as a way to express their true worth and empowerment.
In India, where girls have to drop out of schools due to social insecurity, lack of toilets and similar reasons, it is difficult to imagine many girls opting for sports as a career or even a hobby. I am glad that Mary Kom, a woman who has fought all odds to be a champion and symbol of a woman’s strength is joining you in Rio as a goodwill ambassador. Many girls in India aspire to be the next Mary Kom and are struggling to make that dream a reality.
It is girls like Arshdeep from Faridkot, Punjab, who inspire me to write this letter today. Arshdeep discovered her love for badminton when she joined one of the children clubs initiated by an NGO, World Vision India. “I especially like badminton because it doesn’t require many people to play it. Most girls my age aren’t interested in sports, so it’s difficult to find friends who share a similar interest in sports to play with,” she says. Girls in Arshdeep’s village and many other places in the country are not encouraged to venture out of their homes to pursue their dreams and choose the life they want for themselves.
Even though Arshdeep’s village, Golewala, is barely a 30-minute drive from Faridkot town, her mother, Paramjeet, had never visited the town until five years ago. “As a woman, I would barely even step out of our home as was the custom. But now I am involved with many activities as a member of a local self-help group and my daughter even travels to town on her own for her badminton practice,” she says.
Today she practices at the Nehru Stadium in Faridkot which has been home to many athletes, some even competing for the Olympics. Arshdeep started playing badminton barely a year ago and she has already won a silver medal at the district level tournament – her best so far.
Like Arshdeep, Rinchen from Darjeeling now practices kickboxing and wants to win medals for the nation at international competitions one day. She won the bronze medal in the West Bengal state sub-junior kickboxing championships some years ago. Rinchen had a good reason to put so much energy and effort into her practice. Two years earlier, she had a very close brush with a potentially dangerous situation of trafficking by a local man. Like many parents in India, Richen’s father Puran, a seasonal driver and labourer now strongly advocates that all the daughters from his village and others should be trained in self-defense.
Rinchen’s case has since set an example for the locals – both young and old – to be increasingly vigilant about child safety. To date, there are 88 children ranging from 4-18 years enrolled in the kickboxing tutorial programmes, out of which 54 are girls.
We will look forward to your support while we promote and fight for girls’ empowerment in India and make sports a reality and career for many of them. One day, maybe, they will be able to say that they could excel because of supporters like you, sir.