Monday, August 22, 2016

Powerpuff Girls



Image from here

It is true that our dismal performance at the Rio Olympics was as much a reflection of national health as it was a reflection of our politicized sports federations. It is true that our regression from London to Rio warrants a drastic revamp. It is also true that sports are not a part of our socio-cultural ethos. And yet, despite all our shortcomings, the terrific trio of Dipa, Sakshi and Sindhu managed to etch a silver lining on an otherwise cloudy month of August.

It all began when a young Dipa Karmakar pulled off a breathtaking vault, missed the bronze by a whisker but landed straight into our hearts with her toothy grin and earnest humility. Twitter, not exactly known for its kindness, supported Dipa by reinforcing that she  was already a winner for being the first Indian gymnast to attempt the Vault of Death. Thereafter, when we saw Sakshi Malik’s opponents writhing on the mat, we wondered how an unassuming girl from a patriarchal state with a skewed sex ratio could show such aggression. And when PV Sindhu rose like a phoenix, slaying her opponents one smash at a time, the entire country was transfixed to their televisions, mobiles, laptops, and tablets. Sindhu lost the match but won a silver medal, underlining the truism that sports does not build character, sports reveals it. Harder the battle, sweeter the victory.
But the larger question remains. What exactly are we celebrating? Why are we feeling good about a brave attempt and two medals coming from a billion plus nation?
For one, there is something about sports that creates nationalistic camaraderie. Anticipation of a win by unknown players ignites unmatched patriotic fervor. Their struggle, their tears, their hopes, their pride – all become ours. And yet, such passion was hitherto reserved for cricket. To generate curiosity about other sports in a cricket crazy, Bollywood obsessed nation is no mean feat. It is telling that when it came to appointing brand ambassadors for Rio, Salman Khan and Sachin Tendulkar were the first on the list.

Second, for a nation that evinces little interest prior to the games but hopes to fill its empty medal shelves, the girls achieved something beyond medals. As the social media was awash with messages like, ‘we failed our girls but girls saved our pride’, it didn’t take long for the sub-text to become obvious. The trio did more than any lip service could do for the Prime Minister’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, the #SavetheGirlChild crusade or the symbolic #SelfieWithDaughter.

The idea is not to play the gender card because we know that our sportsmen deliver despite sporting federations and abysmal facilities, and not because of them. We know that it’s not only the lack of money (oil rich Arab nations should be churning out champions) but the lack of sporting culture that is our bane. We know that our kids excel at Math Olympiads and Spelling Bee competitions, but not as much at sports. And we also know that the barriers of societal pressure and parental obligations faced by Indian women, particularly from low income groups are almost insurmountable. So every time a small town girl like Mary Kom comes closer to an Olympic medal, she punctures the deep rooted misogyny that has become a part of our vocabulary. Don’t be such a girl. Girls in short dresses invite men. Don’t you have any balls? When will you settle down? It’s not a girl’s game. When a Whatsapp forward read, ‘Dipa’s Coach – Bisbeshwar. Sakshi’s Coach – Kuldeep. Sindhu’s coach – Gopi. It’s time for Indian men to say, behind every successful woman, there’s a man’ we realized that the trio had debunked some conventional biases.
Every smash from Sindhu, every stride from Dipa and every tackle by Sakshi discredited the narrow identity created by our societal norms. Rather unconsciously, the girls had charmed the nation. Whether their charm resided in their disarming smiles, their relentless pursuit, or earnest humility, it cannot be denied that these girls drove the nail right through the heart of ‘Fair and Lovely’ bogey. Albeit for a few days, the conventional 'beautiful' brigade was sidelined, no matter what they wore at Cannes, how pretty they looked at the Miss India pageant or how they sashayed at a  fashion show.

All said our ambition of becoming a sporting nation looks distant. But what began with Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom in 2012 was underlined by girl power in the 2016. When we don’t look at medals as our only aim, we did take a small step forward in changing attitudes and exposing conventional biases. And for this reason alone we must celebrate. Because the girls are worth it.

59 comments:

  1. Thought provoking post Alka. Sports lets us bypass boundaries of misogyny, caste, religion etc. and unites us. But after that, we revert to our original selves :)

    It's heartening to see that we have abundant women sporting heroes in India - Saina may have had a bad tournament, but she's still a hero for me. It inspires parents to let their girls do more than study and abandon their career after marriage for cooking and raising children.

    I'm not going to go into the 'who should do what' prachaar. For now, I just want to bask in the glory that our women heroes have brought :)

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    1. Yes, Saina will remain a torchbearer. Sad that we quickly forget PT Usha, Karnam Malleshwari and Anju Bobby George.
      Thanks Vishal.

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  3. celebrations havent stopped. I feel so glad that these girls could stand out. I feel so good that their lives will change now , you brought up a very good point about the coach being a man. I read some FB posts and tweets where its t old sindhu is because of sindhu Y give credit to Gopichand? but Y NOT is my argument. He defntly shaped her being her backbone, Ofcourse it is sindhu's mettle but how he coached is all so inspiring. sometimes I fail to understand the slurry of opinions , on the other hand love your balanced thoughts. and yes YAY to girl power

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    1. btw y is Kat in the collage ? I am not able to understand the context !

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    2. The pic was from a news item where Katrina congratulated the girls. I used the picture to show that the conventional fair and beautiful image of Bollywood was busted by these girls.
      Good to see you here.

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  4. So well said Alka-talent,skill,speak louder than fair and lovely skin tones.All these three girls look fabulous.

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  5. With these wins, I am sure many parents will now come forward and encourage their girls/kids in sports. There will be change..but it will take another good 50-100 yrs to see more champions :)

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    1. You are right, we have new role models.
      So good to see you here.

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  6. Exactly my thoughts but it's a long haul even before our presence would be felt in sports arena! The lack of will and culture of Buck passing is unlikely to change any time soon . Very well written,Alka!

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    1. Read your well written post. Guess, we are on the same page.

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  7. Fabulous write up, Alka. And definitely lots of food for thought there - I guess the tide is changing. And as you said, what Sakshi, Dipa and Sindhu have followed through (from where Mary Kom and Saina started ) - is a sort of emphasised that girl power is here to stay. If nothing, at least more girls and boys will have them as role models. And that's something.

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    1. You said it Sid. My SIL in Chicago saw all the matches along with her teen girls so that her girls can dream a different dream. A dream of excelling at sports and not only academics or fine arts.

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  8. Loved this article. "The idea is not to play the gender card because we know that our sportsmen deliver despite sporting federations and abysmal facilities, and not because of them." - so true!

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  9. Totally bang on, Alka. What elates me is that many of these girls come from small towns, hence mindsets are definitely changing. I am so proud of them for their achievements. I do hope that girls can now pursue their dreams better.

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    1. Absolutely. The change has to begin with mindsets. We have a long way to go. It's not about money because countries like Ethiopia and Ajerbaijan won many medals.

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  10. You said it, Alka. These three girls have done something wonderful. I'm so happy because now little girls can look up to them and slowly yet steadily, I feel we are changing. I'm just so happy for these girls and so proud of them..

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    1. Totally Nabanita, a small step but laudable.

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  11. The undertone in the post spelled it so well, our obsession with superior gender to a ridiculous level and how the girls stood proud for the nation, giving their everything. They deserve respect. I just hope that we don't forget them. High time to give sports priority by having a huge budget and private sector as well as celebs invest. If we invest rightly, 2020 is ours to take.

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    1. You are right Vishal, we forget easily. Saina and Mary Kom were nowhere mentioned in the felicitations. We remain uninterested for 4 years and then suddenly when it's Olympic time, we want to decorate our shelves with medals. Doesn't work.

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  12. Today when our gym instructor tried to motivate one of the guys with 'don't be a girl' I glared at him and said, what, even after the Olympic medals, you're using this as an insult?'

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    1. If this can happen in Gurgaon based upmarket gym, imagine what the girls went through in Rohtak and Tripura.

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  13. More power to our ladies for not only flourishing in sports but also for doing so much to make hitherto unknown types of sports become popular in our country. Not in a million years could I have imagined India winning (or coming close to medaling) in boxing, wrestling and gymnastics! Gymnastics, can you believe it!

    So we didn't win many medals. The great thing, still, is the fact that we are finally getting competitive in such a breadth of sports - from hockey to archery to athletics to badminton to wrestling! Even rowing!

    I say, just a matter of time before one of our golden girls accomplishes something historic at a Winter Olympics too!

    Great post as always, Alka!

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    1. Thank you RK.
      Let's accept it, we are unlikely to become a sporting nation in the near future. And yet, it a great start in many respects. Another positive was that SM lauded great efforts even if they weren't converted into medals. There is so much more to sports than medals.

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  14. What a post, Alka!
    You've put in words, and so wonderfully, the opinion of women across India post-Olympics. It is sure to resonate with any woman who dares to dream. So glad you voiced your mind, with an intelligent control and maturity, yet without the trappings which could turn it into an opinion-screed. It's difficult to achieve it. But you always do, because your posts are always about your subjects and never about you.
    If you know what I mean you will know why I love reading such stuff from you!

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment Sakshi. Coming from you, this means a lot.

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  15. It was so overwhelming to watch the girls punch through every single stereotype !! I still get goosebumps when I read about them. And they did this on their own. We are a hardworking nation... if only their was good infrastructure and facility. Brilliant post Alka. You said what many of us must have been thinking!

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  16. What a fabulous post, Alka.
    You have said exactly what I have been thinking over the last few weeks. These girls broke stereotypes and emerged winners. And that is the only thing I am happy about. Their individual successes.
    Looking at the other angle, a billion people and two medals is sad. What happened to Jaisha is an indication of the deep rooted corruption and how we want medals but don't want to invest in the right places and people.

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    1. Yes, it's a sad reality that we have only two medals. But if we do not look at winning medals as our only aim, the girls emerged as great role models for young kids. Thank you Parul.

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  17. We cannot become a sporting nation unless we become a nation first —the state of affairs is pointing elsewhere with every arrow in its armoury. We need to allow the girls to be born, to let them grow up and let them become full fledged persons. Crime against girls, the rarest of rare that at time are visible to trial courts but are treated as petty crimes by High Court and The Supreme Court of India, (whatever happened to Nirbhaya?) is the order of the day. It is in the air, in taxies, in buses, in offices and homes, in darkness and broad daylight. A top rung leader of Samajwadi Party believes the girl that was gang-raped on NH 91 along with her mother in plain sight of her father was subjected to the unmentionable act because of a "political reasons." Lest I break into a rant of my own on your well-meaning post, allow me to thank you for going full blast.

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    1. I totally get your rant in the backdrop of this post. Which is why what the girls did is laudable. Even if the world laughs at us for going overboard with the celebrations. We know the barriers, don't we.
      Thank you. Your presence here is always heartening.

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  18. is everyone serious about this?it reminds me of all the hungama people did when abdul kalam expired.everyone was speaking about him on all social networking sites with kalam pics and some with blog posts how great he was..every politician and everyone who had access to internet tried to exploit the situation to be in limelight. after a month,nobody spoke about him or people who spoke about his ideals did nothing and its back to square one.

    it happened same with olympic medals too,electronic media just want to make as much money as possible with sindhu euphoria.big buildup for sindhu game by india today group with rajdeep sardesai and rahul playing badminton in the studio and 1.2 billion people looking at one game.every politician and every pseudo nationalist tried to use olympic medalists to stay in limelight.

    whats difference between kalam death and 2 olympic medals,there is no difference,people just seek attention
    whenever there is opportunity and they go back to their old way of doing things when euphoria dies down in 30 days. are we really serious about sport or gender issues? we had p.t.usha and ashwini nachappa long back but only thing we didn't had in past was electronic media and social media to spread euphoria for a week.i have this question again ,IS EVERYONE SERIOUS ABOUT THIS? answer this question after a month and not now.

    hmm am not a negative guy,i think its truth about india.

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  19. True, the television media does create hungama only to jump to next story. This is not to say that the girls performance will sort gender issues or help us win a dozen medals in Tokyo. Why, even as I write, I'm watching news where a girl was killed by her father and brother in Hapur. Which is why these girls need to be celebrated. Because they've broken several biases and struggled real hard. I suggest you read the entire piece.

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  20. i have read your post and wrote above comment.hmm do ya feel great if a doctor's daughter becomes a doctor or an engineer's daughter becomes an engineer.you should feel proud when someone from conventional family achieves things and that's real change in mindsets.people who got medals are from families with sports background .you will know what sport in india is and what kinda politics people play in selections only when you play sport.there must be lot of talented people out there who are more talented than medalists who could not influence sport authorities or could not get training due to lack of recommendation from sports body(more biased). STRUGGLED HARD AND SEVERAL BIASES are words that media creates to glorify simple things to add more drama and people who listen such things from media gets carried away.we don't need stuart binny cuz his dad is roger binny. the day we recognise talent from local govt school or from conventional family,you should celebrate. india is not afghanistan,women wear levi's and fee at gopi academy is 15k rs per month(not many can afford).i don't understand this breaking biases and struggled hard cuz my school had sports facility for girls in 1990's and girls used to play badminton.for middle class families and higher middle class,they don't mind girls playing sport as long as they can afford.only thing is not many girls like sport.

    when i was kid,people had own opinions or originality cuz there was no internet.these days people have become like programmed robots,if something is trending on twitter or internet,everyone will trend same thing without knowing actual things.its like in wall-e movie where everyone is in trance and until wall-e makes them to walk on their own.THIS PARA IS NOT FOR PARTICULAR PERSON BUT ITS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE LOST IN CYBER WORLD LIKE PROGRAMMED ROBOTS.i know that this para will offend some people,but i write to change things and not for fame or attention.

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    1. Since you write to change things unlike others, please continue writing.

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    2. hmm you are really cool and better compared to contemporary bloggers,most of contemporary bloggers don't allow others to express their opinion or views freely.we used to write on blogs that way in 2006.the concept of blogging has changed over years so some people find us strange.hmm my last comment on your blog.

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  21. Indeed the powerpuff trio from India has opened the gates for a newer approach to sports in India, especially towards hitherto ignored ones! The girls have paved the way for future champions. That is the real milestone!

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  22. Our Powerpuff girls indeed performed. And yes they have sort become an inspiration of sorts foe many young women. As ur post says.. our Indian kids do excel on maths Olympiad or spell bee.. but sports we have a long way to go. I often notice parents pushing their kids to score And excel in academics, but when it comes to sports theybare happy with a mere participation. Hoping this changes soon for the better.

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    1. Yes, a long way to go. Changing mindsets takes decades.

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  23. Our Powerpuff girls indeed performed. And yes they have sort become an inspiration of sorts foe many young women. As ur post says.. our Indian kids do excel on maths Olympiad or spell bee.. but sports we have a long way to go. I often notice parents pushing their kids to score And excel in academics, but when it comes to sports theybare happy with a mere participation. Hoping this changes soon for the better.

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  24. If there are a handful of sports oriented girls or boys for that matter watching these girls and getting inspired, thats what is required for the future of sports in India....I remember during my schooling years it was not surprising for India to return empty handed from Olympics....Since 1992 I think there has been atleast one medal and yes, achievers. But instead of all organizations conferring crores and crores on the winners, it would be better if they spent it for the upliftment of the sports in the country...Not that the performances are not to be lauded.

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  25. Well I am going to write different :) Sorry :) ..

    True the girls have done wonders and brought some pride to the nation.. BUt has made me angry is the way people have reacted to it with the messages etc.. and then the prize money given I mean yes they deserve all that money BUT so does the WHOLE TEAM.

    Look at Team GB the pride they had as a TEAM, a small little nation and yet os much they have achieved , This TEAM spirit is what is required everyone working together.. TRue we dont have the facilities or the authorities are Leeches but we all know that , we have known all that from the day we became independant.. so lets not talk about them.. BUt what about the People of the nation what is stopping them to get together and doing something for the nation.

    I bet we say that so many have got inspired but for how long.. In my village people did not even know Olympics was going on, and my village is just 18 km's from a District headquarter. :) can you believe that.

    THe girls have made me proud for sure .. if only out authorites just did a bit more.. the plight of the marathon runner where she was not even given water.. WHY is the nation so quiet and not asking thse authorities WHY.

    I think the fault lies with us the people of the nation and NOT the authorities they are in a position to take advantage they are doing it .. but we the people have put them in that position..

    Look what happened during the common wealth games a few years back. what has happened NOTHING :)


    Bikram's

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    1. ooops i have taken a lot of space

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    2. You have merit in your argument Bikram. I began by saying, " true that our dismal performance at the Rio Olympics was as much a reflection of national health as it was a reflection of our politicized sports federations. It is true that our regression from London to Rio warrants a drastic revamp. It is also true that sports are not a part of our socio-cultural ethos.' This is the reality, we cant close our eyes. BUT the reality is also that Honor Killings in UP rose to 68% this year.
      Glad you expressed your frank opinion.

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  26. Nicely written. Btw I need to talk with u regarding few issues. Can u give ur gmail id or can u talk in inbox of fb?

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  27. Very true. What stood out is not about the number of medals, but about breaking stereotypes and that to me was the biggest win.

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  28. You totally nailed it Alka. These girls did us proud inspite of their particular sport not being popular like cricket or getting the big bucks like cricket. Infact I will say that many Indian's hadn't even heard of these three girls, until the Olympics shone its spotlight on them. These girls made a cricket loving nation turn its collective eye-balls onto other sports and that by itself is a big feat!

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    1. So so good to see you here Rachna. Was missing your presence, tx.

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  29. You have said it right - All said our ambition of becoming a sporting nation looks distant.
    As long as it is Govt controlled.

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  30. These girls have made India proud.....
    Just a little bit of push by Govt providing more facilities,,,more and more medals will be in our kitty.

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