Wrestler Geeta Phogat trains at the sports campus in Punjab
AS GEETA Phogat completes her sprint at a sprawling sports campus in Punjab, one of her coaches nods approvingly at her stopwatch, another rushes to check her pulse, and a third ushers her toward the gym for a bout of wrestling. Such attention and encouragement is routine for a top athlete, but it is unusual for women from Geeta’s village in Haryana. It is rare for a girl to have a life outside her home. ‘In my village, girls have limited opportunities,’ says 23-year-old Geeta, the first female Indian wrestler to qualify for the Olympics. ‘If they get admission in a college, only a few households would allow them to go for further studies.’ When Geeta and her wrestler-sisters began training, they were ridiculed by the community. ‘They said nobody will marry us because we would have disfigured ears,’ says Geeta, pointing to her cauliflower ears, a common condition among wrestlers in which the outer ear is swollen. Twelve years later Geeta is a local celebrity. Ask for the house where Geeta lives and people several kilometres away can direct you to it. Tanned and lithe, Geeta stood with her legs apart and her muscular arms folded across her chest, as she spoke to reporters at her gym. It was a confident posture, unlike that of many of the women from her village who were too shy to speak to journalists. ‘In my village earlier, when families found they were going to have a girl child, they used to get an abortion,’ says Geeta’s younger sister, Ritu, who is also a wrestler. ‘If I was not a wrestler, or if my father was not a good coach, I would have been married by now,’ she says. Instead, Geeta and her sisters were brought up as boys with her father disapproving of long hair or feminine clothes. ‘We used to wear a track suit and T-shirt while training,’ says Geeta, who has grown her hair longer now and has a ponytail. ‘But that did not go down well with the villagers, because women are usually supposed to wear salwar kameez (a long shirt paired with loose pyjamas).’ Geeta now trains in a fully equipped, air-conditioned gym at Asia’s largest sports institute, which includes a palace built by the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala.
No Comments Posted yet
Do you have comments on this?