Women in a traditional Haryana household live by a pattern. The men command the terms, while the women learn to comply, adjust to circumstances they didn’t choose, and simply, stay at home. When they do have the permission to step outdoors, there are places that are strictly forbidden, such as akharas (wrestling grounds).
Here, the men train and learn wrestling by a traditional chaste discipline that treats the presence of women as temptation and distraction. A woman is a man’s weakness – the reason why he sways from his path, someone who cooks his meals and keeps out.
For one father, however, four daughters and two nieces gave him six reasons to challenge one of the most rigid societies in India. His little girls were not bent and moulded. They entered his akhara and wrestled. While their peers had little choice but to board the journey of daughter, wife, then mother, these girls kept on wrestling. Perhaps the biggest achievement today for Geeta, Babita, Sangita, Ritu, Vinesh, and Priyanka is that they are known for who they are. And each of them is a world champion in their sport.
The story of the Phogat sisters and the single-minded determination of their father has now captivated the nation, scripted into the Aamir Khan movie, “Dangal”. Speaking at Josh Talks Leap after returning from the Rio Olympics in 2016, Babita charmed everyone with her open personality and frank storytelling. In about four minutes, she gave an authentic insight into the beginning of their fascinating journey.
In an Olympic year where the women turned out to be India’s saving grace, countless other girls would have felt the spark. We just hope the commandeers of our society are listening and soul searching.