Back in 2003 when teenager Sakshi Malik walked into Sir Chotu Ram Academy in Rohtak along with her mother, she had no clue she would be made to wrestle with boys for practice. Perhaps she was not even aware not many like her lived to walk into a wrestling academy and hope to fulfil her dreams in a rabidly patriarchal society like Haryana with a lopsided sex ratio.
The other headline Haryana often garnered was related to ‘honour’ killings. Those were not the days of selfie with daughters either. Back then, a 13-year-old had vowed not only to take on boys but beat them at their own game. Back then, even Sakshi did not know she would one day become the toast of the nation by winning a bronze medal at Olympics.
Sakshi’s trajectory from Rohtak to Rio is dotted with grit, determination, hard work and a relentless zeal to overcome hardships and set newer benchmarks of success. Back in her academy she is already a poster girl, along with Suman Kundu who won bronze for India in 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, for many young and upcoming wrestlers. Is this a sign for a positive change in a society still soaked deep in patriarchy where women are subjected to restrictions, sometimes bordering on primitive.
Will Sakshi’s win help promote the cause of selfie with daughter? Will Sakshi’s win turn the tide for the invisible millions whose lives are cut short in the womb itself? Will Sakshi’s Rio win change the social landscape of Rohtak and her home state Haryana where sex ratio according to the 2014 census was still a pathetic 877 females per 1000 males?
Not that Haryana has produced a female sports star for the first time. Saina Nehwal, Seema Punia, Geeta Phogat, Santosh Yadav, Savita Punia are some of the names that have already entered Haryana sports hall of fame. The illustrious list shall now boast of Sakshi Malik’s name as well.
The combined girl power many not have brought about the desired change in the mindset of people towards girls but it sure has made the society sit up and take cognizance of the pride and honour daughters can bring to a family. Will it take long in changing the mindset that a girl is not worthy of being ignored or neglected just because they were born a girl.
It shall not be in fitness of things to single out a state for its patriarchal outlook. It’s a pan-India phenomenon. That’s how we are. We fail to acknowledge the presence of gritty girls like PV Sindhu, Dipa Karmakar or a Lalita Babar around us. Despite technological strides to explore the deepest mysteries of space, we have not been able to change our outlook towards girls. The society still prefers to keep womenfolk on the margins.
The girl’s education still remains low on priority not only in rural but urban areas as well. Violence against women refuses to die down, its manifestations getting uglier by the day. The society is more concerned about what the women wear, setting out firmans of dressing code, than spare a thought on why mother-to-be should go undernourished, risking also the the life of the child she is carrying.
Add to these a set of archaic religious diktats that further push the women under a debris of purdah and ignorance. In effect, we continue to celebrate patriarchy when it should be gender equality that we should seek to promote and take pride in. We have not been able to crack a simple formula that educating a girl child can bring unprecedented wealth to the nation’s treasure trove with several gold, silver and bronze medals as bonuses.
Sakshi wrestled with men and climbed the summit of fame and glory. Outside the ring, many Sakshis and Sindhus are still wrestling with male dominance. They have the courage to break free of patriarchal hold. Until then, men can keep counting on the medals of the girls' grit and gumption and bask in the shadow of their glory.