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Why It’s High Time We Looked Beyond Cricket For Our Heroes

Another chapter was added to the history of Indian sports on April 2, 2017, when PV Sindhu won her maiden Indian Open Super Series title. The very next day, Sakshi Malik tied the wedding knot.

As the nation erupted with cheers, joy and well wishes, it brought back memories from last year. These memories had seemed to wane amidst all the tension in the Kashmir valley, heated debates over demonetisation and all the buzz around the elections.

Indian sports lovers cannot and should not forget the Rio Olympics. Sadly, it was not the aura, festivity or the spirit of the event, but the inability to win medals, which had weighed heavily upon the nation – until two Indian ‘heroines’ preserved the honour of a billion hopes. Thereafter, Olympics and medals became topics of household discussions – but for how long?

India’s ‘golden’ athletes – PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar

The fanfare receded gradually as attention shifted to the Uri attack, surgical strikes, demonetisation and other issues. Once this happened, we no longer had those insightful panel discussions over the lacklustre performance of India in the Olympics, no more postmortem of the facilities provided to the national athletes, and no more hue and cry over the inconsistent medal-population ratio.

Now, all these topics and concerns have been buried till the next Olympics.

On the evening of August 19, 2016, when an Indian girl was giving the badminton world champion a run for her money, a whopping 17.2 million pair of eyes were glued to the television or computer screens – an unprecedented record for any non-cricket sports in India. The whole of nation was in a frenzy. Offices, homes, and many public spaces were abuzz with the latest updates on the proceedings of the ‘match’ (a term generally associated with cricket, in India).

The Olympics final between PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin thrilled the nation!

As millions shunned their engagements to fall in love with the awe-inspiring focus and grit of PV Sindhu, two things were learnt that night. First, it is not only a Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli who can bring the country to a standstill. Second, we Indians are no philistines. We proved that we do possess the throbbing hearts to back our sportsmen and women. The heart-warming reactions, emotions and waves of festivity in the country, generated by the courage and determination of the likes of Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu, were priceless, arguably unprecedented, and unarguably, worthy of nourishment.

What paved the way for cricket to become a religion in India was the fact that one fine summer afternoon, Kapil Dev’s ‘devils’ pulled off something unexpected. They defeated the so-called invincible West Indies and brought home the World Cup for the first time. This was a testament to our capability of leaving a mark on the face of world sports.

Kapil Dev receives the 1983 Cricket World Cup

In India, cricket was, and is, luckier than most other sports, since it has always had a moment to cherish – a moment which could be termed as the next ‘giant leap’ in the sport. On the other hand, in the post-Dhyan Chand era, hockey has failed to live up to the humongous standards set by the game’s predecessors.

Even while talking about individuals, Indian cricket has always found a new flag-bearer in every era – someone who would add new dimensions, in keeping with the dynamics of the game. It’s not that hockey didn’t have potential, but the failure to live up to its golden past, especially after the introduction of AstroTurf post the 1980 Olympics (which was severely lacking in India) cost the game’s popularity and its inspirational potential dearly.

On the other hand, the ever-rising graph of Indian cricket after the 1983 breakthrough (aided by the BCCI and commercialisation), ‘channelised’ the viewership, fandom and craze into cricket much more than other sports. Indians started looking at cricketers as ‘larger-than life’ characters. Somewhere, they deprived themselves of the taste of other sports and ignored the heroics of sports-persons involved in these other sports.

However, as with cricket, single achievements set trends in other sports as well – with the result that in recent years, sports like wrestling, tennis and badminton have given us more than ever before. Youngsters like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt, Sushil Kumar, Sania Mirza, Sakshi Malik – and many more, belonging to different sports – are doing their bits to make it large for their country and their respective sports.

Let’s not forget Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt and company!

After all, isn’t it saddening that many of us don’t even know that kabaddi is played at the international level – let alone the fact that our team is the undisputed ‘king’ of that game, having won a third consecutive World Cup in 2016? Therefore, it is high time that we, as a nation, valued their sweat and savoured their accomplishments throughout the year.

While the mainstream media has the greater responsibility of not letting the ‘flame’ die (which happened within 20 days of the conclusion of Olympics) social media too can be pivotal in carving a national icon out of a PV Sindhu or a Yogeshwar Dutt.

Celebrated authors may utilise their energies and skills in writing well-researched articles about the conditions of Indian athletes and facilities they are getting – especially during the intervals between two Olympics seasons, the time when this hard-lit ‘flame’ is most vulnerable.

As commoners, we all need to do our bit by at least keeping ourselves abreast of the latest proceedings and developments in the various games, even if we may not be intrigued by them. Moreover, let movies like “Dangal” be the means of ‘reliving’ the memories of sporting legends – and not the means of ‘introducing’ them to the masses.

Keeping commercialisation aside, a small recognition or a minute, vicarious support (even on social media), may do wonders to the morale of an athlete, and may motivate many others to join the game.

Therefore, let not the ‘flame’ die!

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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.

        Read more about his campaign.

        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.”

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        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.

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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 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.

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        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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