Thursday, August 9, 2012

Indian Women Fight It Out At The Olympics

We have seen some truly uplifting performances at the Olypmics by a tiny number of Indian women!  It is hard for anyone to  excel in sports in India but often harder for women because of the age old questions, "Why bother?", "Who will marry you?" or "What difference will it make?"

It was wonderful to see Saina Nehwal bravely battling for the bronze medal (which she was awarded eventually as her opponent retired hurt).  Saina, the daughter of former badminton champions (in Haryana) has emerged as the foremost player in the country today.  She is the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships, a Super Series Tournament and is also the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton.

Several years ago she had mentioned in a newspaper interview that her grandmother was very disappointed after she was born because she wanted a boy in the family.  (Haryana has a particularly strong patriarchal system and one of the highest rates of female infanticide in the country).  Saina mentioned this in a matter of fact way, with the aim (she said) of encouraging other girls who might have gone through similar moments in their lives.  She is currently in Hyderabad and has been training with the award winning coach (and former badminton player) Pullela Gopichand.

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, the diminutive boxer from Manipur, who was forced to fight above her weight category (which is 46-48 kg, but the lowest category in the Olympics was 51 kg) has also qualified for a bronze medal.  She comes from a remote village in Manipur (north eastern India), from a  family of labourers.  She left home thirteen years ago to train as a boxer.  Her parents have been supportive (her father selling a cow to fund her training and her mother providing emotional stability through the years).  Her father did ask, "Who will marry you when you ruin your face?" but relented and sure enough someone did marry her and has been helping her run a small boxing academy in Manipur!  She has two little boys and must be looking forward to getting back to them after all the fights.

Both Saina and Mary Kom have been very nice to watch in the Olympics - skillful, quick - and merciless when required!

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