Rasheeda Bhagat

Girl power at the Olympics

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on January 17, 2018

No country for girls India has a long way to go Reuters   -  REUTERS

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But does that change anything about how girls are regarded in India, or that female foeticide still has a grip on society?

Any mode, route or excuse to celebrate the girl child or the female gender is good enough. This time around, it feels great to watch a country that has slaughtered 10 million of its daughters in the womb — according to a study done in 2006 — in the preceding 20 years, going gaga over the performance of two of its daughters at the Rio Olympics. Pusarla V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have saved India from the disgrace of getting zilch medals at the Games; with Sindhu bagging a silver in badminton and Sakshi a bronze in wrestling.

An outrageous tweet

The outrage over writer Shobha De’s atrocious tweet (“Goal of Team India at the Olympics. Rio jao. Selfies lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity.”), unravelled a lot of muck. How more officials and the wrong kind of doctors — radiologists for instance — were sent to Rio, how a minister’s flunkey threw his weight around and was warned by the authorities of dire consequences, and other idiocies we seem to have mastered. De was rightly flayed for her insensitivity, because given the near-nil encouragement to any other sport in India except cricket, even to make it for the qualifying rounds at the Olympics is a huge achievement.

If Abhinav Bindra could get a gold in an expensive sport such as air rifle shooting, it was because he was rich enough to be able to pursue and train for this event. Heartbreakingly, this time around, he missed the bronze by a whisker. Over decades, the facilities and encouragement given to our sportsmen and women have been abysmal.

In the 1970s, my sister-in-law was a national long jump champion in the junior category, and participated in hurdles and other athletic events, and travelled all over India for various State and national meets. For the athletes it was mostly travel in third class compartments, often unreserved, stay in dirty, cramped quarters, inadequate food, etc, while the officials travelled first class, stayed in good hotels and were pampered. Forty years later, she was among the first to express outrage over De’s tweet, knowing fully well what Indian athletes and other sportspersons endure to even reach the Olympics.

Returning to girl power at Rio, apart from Sindhu and Sakshi, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, from tiny Tripura, almost made it to a bronze; Lalita Babar made it to the finals of the Women’s 3000m steeplechase, and Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna made it to the tennis mixed doubles quarterfinals.

It was exhilarating to watch each bout of the 58-kg event, where Sakshi eventually got a bronze; and to keep the eyes glued on that little shuttlecock in the final between Sindhu and Carolina Marin, and to celebrate the fact that she gave such a fight to the Spaniard, ranked World No 1. Social media of course erupted, and Indian men joined women in celebrating woman-power at the Olympics with messages such as India mein sabzi se leke Olympic medals tak… ladies ko hi jaana padta hei! (In India, whether it is vegetables or Olympic medals, only women have to shop for them). There were several messages on sisters gifting brothers medals on raakhi day, turning tradition on its head.

Meaningful celebration?

But the question is how long, and more important, how meaningful is this celebration of girl power in India. Will two Indian girls making India proud at the Olympics make any dent on the butchering of tens of thousands of female foetuses every year across the country? And this not only among poor rural families worried about dowry, but also in rich Punjab, Haryana, Delhi or Ahmedabad where gender ratios are falling.

Whether a female life is snuffed out before birth either for monetary reasons or because a male-dominated society puts little worth on a woman, the end result is the same… missing daughters. As proved by the University of Toronto study done a decade ago in 1.1 million households across India, on the selective aborting of female foetuses, far fewer girls were born to couples if their preceding child/children was/were female. When the firstborn was a daughter, the sex ratio for the second child fell steeply, compared to the firstborn being a male child. Will an Olympics medal or two won by India’s daughters change all this? Doubtful. Until the time Indian women, across the board, are educated and economically empowered to take control of both their lives… and wombs.

If you haven’t caught a glimpse of Sakshi’s mother’s reaction as her daughter was declared a winner, do catch it on YouTube. It is a beautiful testimony of the priceless mother-daughter bond.

Published on August 22, 2016

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