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Sandhya, The 21-Year-Old Who Is Shattering Stereotypes Through Kabaddi

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The power of sport is often understated while being reduced only to extracurricular or physical activity. Sport teaches essential values and skills; sport creates opportunities to learn and grow.

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Born into a family of 6, Sandhya, the youngest of 4 daughters, was always active. Her father was a barber, mother a homemaker. As a kid, Sandhya played cricket with her friends and was introduced to kabaddi in her high school years. The game’s very nature attracted her. She started playing kabaddi at the Atmakur Development Center of Anantapur Sports Academy, a sport for development initiative based on Anantapur in India.

She was quick to learn; her dedication towards the game soon helped her find a place in the district team within a year. The 2021 Kabaddi State Meet was the turning point in her life; that is when she started to consider kabaddi as a viable career option. She went on to play national level competitions, travelling across the state and country.

Coming from marginalized backgrounds, taking up the sport as a full-time profession is a distant dream. In the case of Sandhya, being the fourth daughter meant a lack of resources in the family; her sisters were married at a very young age for the same reason. In rural communities, especially in impoverished and marginalized households, there is pressure to earn money for the family. This is one of the reasons which restrict women in India from pursuing sport full time.

With the help of ASA and the coaches, she aimed high, soon she secured admission to the Sports Authority of India residential academy in Visakhapatnam and trained there for four years. That paved her path to participate in the Junior National Kabaddi competitions, after which she came back to Anantapur to her family.

Her performance, accolades and achievements turned all eyes onto her. As she joined in her undergraduate degree in Anantapur, she continued to play tournaments at the national level. The District Sports Administration soon identified that her skills would help other women in the district excel in kabaddi and offered her a job as Kabaddi Coach.

Discrimination To Inspiration

Being a girl in India and pursuing sport is not easy,” says Sandhya, as she had to face gender-based discrimination in the early and later days of her sporting life. It is a tough job for girls in rural Indian communities to convince parents and society to let them pursue the sport, let alone a contact sport like kabaddi.

When I started to play kabaddi, we were a batch of 30 girls in high school who used to practise, slowly the number decreased, after school almost no one played. Now I’m the only one in the whole batch who is still playing kabaddi,” adds the 21-year-old.

Sandhya’s parents were supportive of her decision to pursue sport as a career, but they were often discouraged by the community and relatives who used to ask, “why are you sending a girl to play sport.

More than the parents, it is the society that pulls women down, try to force its patriarchal morals on us. I’ve witnessed it in my life and seen how people around you try to influence your parents in not letting you pursue the sport,” says Sandhya, who had to address all the issues around her.

But with her commitment and dedication to the sport and the accolades that followed her performance had positively influenced society around her. It showed the community that girls from rural villages could pursue the sport and aim for the sky and reach the stars. Sandhya is no less than a star in her town, Atmakur.

In a place where she was discriminated against, she stands tall as an inspiration for many children. “People who told my father not to allow me to pursue the sport now come to see me when I go to my village. I know a few of them joined their children in the ASA Atmakur Development Center to pursue kabaddi.

While her journey inspires others, her parents are proud of their daughter, “I feel happy whenever I see her photo in the newspaper or on television, to know that my daughter is reaching heights makes me and my family proud of her, we encourage her to keep going,” says Arunamma, Sandhya’s mother.

Sandhya, over the period, has broken many long-standing gender stereotypes in her community; through sport, she proved that girls and boys are equal, girls from marginalized rural families can pursue the sport, she proved that girls could play and excel in contact sports. She inspired those who discriminated against her, paved her path, secured employment through sport, and supported her family and self, all while playing and studying.

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