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The Time Has Come To Move Beyond Our Cricket Obsession

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By Surya Kamal:

There is an adage in India: “Padhoge likhoge banoge Nawab, Kheloge kudoge banoge kharab” (“You’ll be a Prince if you study. You’ll not be so good if you jump and play.”)

In India, where your career choice is dictated by your parents to a larger extent, promoting sports as a profession becomes a hard nut to crack. During the ’80s and ‘90s, many parents used to believe that being a ‘sarkari babu’ was more appealing and rewarding profession than being a sports person. The halo effect of government jobs was all over them and they kept passing the government job baton to their younger generations, the way it was passed to them by their elders. I cannot blame them entirely. Being parents, they have the right to care for their kids’ future and security and getting a government job meant a lifetime validity sim to them. With monthly recharge and free value added services, it was kind of dream life they could imagine for their kids.

Some parents were mavericks. They wanted to create a new world around their kids and properly took care of their child likes and dislikes in order to choose or help them choose a right career path. They were not considered ‘normal’ for society and were treated as if they were committing crimes by going against the wind.

But, somehow, mindsets changed and sports started to become a career alternative for several Indians. But again, parents came to the party and almost every parent wanted their son or daughter to become a cricketer. This is because this game had the exposure and charisma where their wards can become an overnight star unlike other prestigious games such as hockey, badminton, athletics, wrestling, kabaddi etc. There was a time when cricket was a synonym to sports in India.

One must not forget that by the time India had won their first cricket world cup in 1983, our hockey team had 8 Olympic gold medals to their name; Prakash Padukone was an All England club champion, Khashaba Jadhav had won bronze in wrestling way back in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Milkha Singh had already brought Indian athletics to the fore and P T Usha had become the first Indian female to reach an Olympics event final. But none of these historical achievements were seen to be as appealing as cricket.

Cricket in India has never lacked talent nor did it lack exposure. What amuses me is how sports like hockey, athletics, badminton etc. were left far behind cricket despite some exceptional talents and major trophies they’ve won for India.

The answer is that these games, despite having mavens, lacked in better connectors and salesmen and hence could not become so contagious to start an epidemic which the game of cricket had during its early time and has even now.

Times have changed, our economy has grown and is growing, our literacy rates have increased, technologies have improved and above all, the risk-taking abilities in us as well as in our parents have exponentially improved. The result of these changes are visible to everybody. We have IPL, IBL, ISL, HIL and Pro-Kabaddi league as a platform where many come, play and become stars.  This has widened the reach of lesser followed sports among Indians and we can see players coming from different parts of India and making us proud. Now, I am quite confident to say that sports in India have gone beyond cricket.

So, is this the tipping point moment for sports in India? I believe so.

The reason for this dramatic change is that now we have the missing link in other sports what we had in cricket for ages – mavens, connectors and salesmen.

These sports have found their maven in P. Gopichand, Satpal Singh, Gurbax Singh Sandhu etc; and connectors in the likes of Dhanraj Pillai, Leander Paes, Saina Nehwal , Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Baichung Bhutia and Vijender Singh to name a few.

The most astonishing part is that we have a long list of salesmen which includes Sardar Singh, P.V Sindhu, Sania Mirza,  Sushil Kumar, Vikas Krishnan, Shiva Thapa, Sunil Chetri, Hina Sidhu, Jitu Rai,Gagan Narang, the Phogat sisters, Sakshi Malik, Dutee Chand, Sudha Singh, Kavita Raut and not to forget our star gymnast Dipa Karmakar.

In a recent interview, Pulela Gopichand mentioned that he was lucky for not being good in studies, unlike his brother who was a state badminton champion but went on to study in IIT. It is quite evident why Gopichand mentioned this incident – this is a message to spread the epidemic. Examples like this are aplenty and outcomes have been great so far.

The epidemic has arrived in our sports arena and it is highly contagious. Even our parents have come on board and with their support, there is a sense of independence among the bright Indian generation who now show the courage to select sports over studies. Gone are the days when sports were optional. Now, it is a mainstream subject like arts and Science. The good part is that fewer parents say to their kids “Kheloge kudoge banoge kharab.

This is indeed the tipping point.

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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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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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