India’s first OLYMPIAN WOMAN WRESTLER- Geeta, Babita and the great sister act

Siddharth Saxena | August 4, 2012

FIRST OF A KIND: Geeta Phogat is the first Indian woman wrestler at the Olympics


FIRST OF A KIND: Geeta Phogat is the first Indian woman wrestler at the Olympics

This is a story of how a father braved village elders to make his daughters wrestlers. Being pummelled by the girls is now family tradition for the Phogats.

A group of men play cards in one corner of the Phogat courtyard. A hookah quietly does the rounds – even those stopping by to watch the dealing, the hand and the arguments, distractedly mouth the bronze pipe to take a drag. An elderly patriarch – his crisp starch whites in complete contrast to the dishevelled, rough-mouthed lot – sits nearby, overlooking this all-male daily afternoon ritual.

Whoops of joy and shouts of disagreement from the card game punctuate the air. Nearby, two buffalos with glistening black hides look on. They have no names. Haryana has no room for such sentimentality. Even the pet, a young German shepherd, probably has none. The cattle are tended to by Geeta Phogat’s mother Daya Kaur, who was sweeping the path outside their house road when we arrived. She is tirelessly preparing the ‘formula’ for the buffalos when she is not ferrying water to the animals.

Daya Kaur is also the sarpanch of Balali village. You’d never know it as she goes about the day’s chores of the average Haryanvi village woman. You wouldn’t know she is the sarpanch if her husband Mahaveer Phogat hadn’t announced it. Proudly. “Jan seva. Jan seva kar rahi hai, ” he says of his wife.

Balali is a tiny village in Haryana’s Bhiwani district. Only 500 houses, a population of just over 5, 000. There are more men than women here too. Haryana’s sex ratio is dismal and female foeticide rampant. According to the 2011 Census, it has the country’s worst child sex ratio – 830 girls for every 1, 000 boys as compared to the national average of 914. Bhiwani is no better at 831.

But there’s a kind of revolution inside this courtyard guarded by an un-named German Shepherd.

A group of ‘boys’ – sturdy, stolid, closecropped hair and male in a back-slappy way – is training. Look closer and you’ll find they are actually teenaged wrestler girls training under the eagle eye of their father, the sometimes grumpy, sometimes strangely-affectionate Mahaveer.

A mission undertaken a decade ago – spurred by the promise of a Rs 2 crore bait announced by the then CM of the state – is finally yielding dividend, in the form of his eldest daughter Geeta, India’s first female wrestler at the Olympics.

It is a unique victory for one man’s tireless single-mindedness in the face of local resistance in a state known for its historically step-motherly attitude towards women. Four of his daughters, and two adopted ones, are today the pride and joy of the village. The boys step aside when the bunch go on their warm-up run on Balali’s dusty, brick-laden tracks each morning.

But, ask the local men whether they will continue their card-game even on the day of Geeta Phogat’s opening bout in London (August 9), and they distractedly reply, “Nahin, uss din TV dekhenge, ” and promptly return to their daily ritual.

Bluntness in Haryana is a virtue, albeit a downright un-endearing and far from charming one.

The subject of their minor distraction for the coming week, 23-year-old Geeta, is currently in the finalminute training camp in Belarus. She is accompanied by her sister Babita, 21, who is there as her sparring partner.
Both head an impressive line of talented siblings pushing and shoving their way to be the best. There’s Ritu, so tiny and shy that you are scared to speak to her lest she doesn’t know how to handle your sudden intrusion. But she packs a punch, her cauliflowered wrestler’s ears bear testimony to her already much-travelled resume.

Her father does not say it in as many words, but he believes she is the most talented. Four international medals – in the world and Asian junior and cadet categories – is a record unequalled by any Indian wrestler, he claims.

Then there’s Sangeeta, younger to Ritu’s 17 by three years but heavier in weight to her 48 kilos. Twelve-year-old son Dushyant completes the line-up. In typical Jat-boy style, he is already a champ at the wheel of their rickety SUV and is currently eyeing the swanky Maruti SX4 that Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda gifted his eldest sibling.

When not doing that, he doesn’t mind being flung around the mat by Sangeeta. Being pummelled by the girls is now acquired family tradition for the Phogats.

The striking Vinesh, 17, serious Priyanka, 18, and Seema, 15, are the cousins in the tightly-knit sibling melee. Mahaveer, self-styled coach and disciplinarian, asserts there’s no discrimination when training the lot. “That’s the only way you can become a top wrestler, and get a medal in the Olympics, ” he states. An old Englishspeaking associate vouches for it. “He would make me sit and watch him train. Apart from imparting techniques, he’d brandish a slipper at his waist, ready to wield it when his instructions were not met. I couldn’t sit through it. Just got up and left, calling him mad and obsessed, ” says the friend.
For Mahaveer, it is not new. Being alone in his strange pursuit is now an everyday passion for the man who zealously took it up with zeal a decade ago. The trigger may have been a Rs 2 crore purse, but somewhere along the way it became his calling.

“Ladkiyon ko kuch banana tha, so woh kiya, ” he says, slouched in his wicker easy chair, feet up and with a satisfied resignation that comes with a job well done. He has scarce regard for the all-male poker club, and the father in him is ever-vigilant as he keeps an eye from a distance when we speak to his daughters.

He is the male mother hen to his brood. He tells us of how he spurned any advice – even threat – from the village elders as he trained his daughters. “Pehle bahut virodh tha. Gaon ke bade buzurgon ne bada aitraaz kiya tha. Mujhe bula kar bolte, ‘Besharam ho, apni ladki se kya kara rahe ho?! Inke haath pair tooth jayenge, toh shaadi kaun karega?’

“Par manne bhi nahi suni. Jab meri ladkiyan Geeta aur Babita Commonwealth Games mein gold aur silver le aaye, toh sab ne kahi, ‘Pehelwan, bada achcha kaam kiya hai. Agar aisi ladki jo hamari hoti, toh hum bhi aisi hi karte. ‘ Aaj bada pyaar, bada samaan mil raha hai. . . ”

You could argue there is a twisted chauvinism to Mahaveer’s ways. Like all sporting parents, he can be obsessive and controls things. Like any normal teenager, the girls too secretly yearn to grow their hair or pierce their ears, but they seem to realise there is only the hard way to achieve anything. “Jo Papa bolte hain, ” they chorus happily, till one of them chirps up, “I have a Facebook account, but please don’t tell him. . . ”


In a country of dwindling sex ratios , a school in Punjab that values girls


by Nirupama Dutta

Harpreet Kaur, 18, of Udowal village in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, first heard of the
Baba Aya Singh Rearki College at Tugalwala from her cousin. Recalls Harpreet,
“My cousin who studied here would tell me stories of the happy and simple life
there and of the great values learnt through education. So I longed to go there.”

Harpreet eventually joined the school after her matriculation and is currently doing
her Bachelor’s degree. “I would like to stay on here as a teacher
after doing my B.A; and then do my Masters in English Literature,” says
the enthusiastic student, who is also the secretary of her class.

The college is an exceptional experiment in education for rural girls in the districts of Gurdaspur
and Amritsar, which adjoin the border with Pakistan. Its far-reaching impact on
women’s education and empowerment can be gauged from the fact that the college is
based in a state where Sex selection is rampant and where the sex ratio is the
lowest in the country.

The college, which functions as a trust, dates back to 1934 when a social worker c
alled Baba Aya Singh established a small ‘putri pathshala’ (girls’ school) at Tugalwala.
He also set up the SKD High School in 1939. The college, however, aptly began
functioning in 1975 – the International
of Women.

Principal Swaran Singh Virk, 64, recalls the early challenges the college faced in a
society reluctant to grant its daughters an education. “After campaigning from village to
village on the importance of education for girls, I was promised 34 students. Twenty backed
out and so we started with a batch of 14. These girls sat for the exam of Prep (equivalent
to Class XI) and Giani (a Punjabi language examination) and secured excellent results. Today, the school has
the requisite number of teachers and is affiliated to the Punjab School Education Board.
The college students appear privately for their graduation and post-graduation examinations.
Altogether there are around 3,500 girls – boarders and day scholars – who are enrolled
from Class VI to the Masters’ level.”

Interestingly, the tuition fee is only Rs 800 (US$1=Rs 47.14) a year. Boarding and
lodging comes for an annual fee of Rs 5,500. In the absence of any grants, the college displays
excellent management of limited means and innovative self-sustaining measures. Homespun rugs,
or ‘durries’, are used to seat the students. Desks and benches are used only for the examinations.
The college has six teachers, who teach the senior classes. The remaining classes are taken by
senior students through the ‘each one, teach one’ approach. This not only cuts down the cost
of hiring another teacher, but also inculcates a sense of responsibility and confidence
in the ‘student lecturer’.

Virk explains, “We would rather do without aid. We save on electricity by using solar lighting. We have no fuel bill as we have our own biogas plant.” The cooperative store for stationery and the general store in the college offer around 50% discount to students and also manage to save about Rs 150,000. The savings are used to sponsor around 150 orphaned students who study at the college.

All pupils have been taught the dignity of labour and the advantages of self-help: everything from cleaning the campus to cooking meals in batches of 12 to tending to the kitchen garden is managed by the students. All pupils have been taught the dignity of labour and the advantages of self-help: everything from cleaning the campus to cooking meals in batches of 12 to tending to the kitchen garden is managed by the students.

All pupils have been taught the dignity of labour and the advantages of self-help: everything from cleaning the campus to cooking meals in batches of 12 to tending to the kitchen garden is managed by the students.

Visit Tugalwala and you can spot hundreds of young women dressed in their white uniforms, finding no task too hard to handle. The tall gates of the institution are ‘wo-manned’ by two students, who note down the names and addresses of the visitors. One group of girls is busy preparing the midday meal. Sukhmeet Kaur, 18, a BA Final student and secretary of her class, elaborates, “We are having curry for lunch. The girls decide the menu by consensus. We use most of the vegetables and grain grown here on the eight-acre school farm.”

The girls are provided with wholesome meals and their day begins with a full glass of fresh buffalo milk – from the in-house dairy – boiled with some tea leaves.

The high standards of excellence extend to the classrooms, too. The college is proud of its unblemished record when it comes to examinations, as there has not been a single case of copying. Harsharan Singh, an examiner, explains, “The examiners and invigilators are posted here but are required to do nothing more than hand out the papers.” The school has a cash prize of Rs 21,000 for an examiner who can spot a case of copying. The award goes unclaimed every year. However, the real reward for the school is the near 100-per cent pass rate, with at least 50 per cent of these students getting first divisions.

In a state known for its attachment to hockey, the latest excitement on the campus is the new hockey field in the school. Explains Virk,”We will train the girls to take part in national and international hockey tournaments.”

While religious study – Sikhism – is part of the curriculum, children are taught to respect all faiths and the school corridors are lined with sayings from various scriptures. As of now, the institution offers only Humanities but hopes to include diverse streams in time. “We will spread our wings on our own if we can. Affiliation would bring in more money, aid and grants but it would turn us into one of the many run-of-the mill institutions which we don’t want to be,” says Virk. For now, the college falls under the jurisdiction of the Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) but is not affiliated to it, as it is not a conventional institution. The students appear for their exams as private candidates.

Visit Tugalwala and you can spot hundreds of young women dressed in their white uniforms, finding no task too hard to handle.Visit Tugalwala and you can spot hundreds of young women dressed in their white uniforms, finding no task too hard to handle.

It’s now afternoon, and the students are all over the campus – playing ‘kho-kho’ (traditional Indian team sport), merrily running around, or singing folk songs. Some practise for the various inter-class music, painting and public speaking competitions; others are busy making handmade charts and invitations for various events. These events are held in the school and are very often inter-school. Even the Tugalwala college girls go out for inter-school events.

The campus seems to exude a tremendous sense of confidence and happiness, and all the students – whether they are boarders or day scholars who bus down to school every day from their village or town – appear to participate wholeheartedly in school activities.

Reveals Sukhmeet Kaur Baupuria, 18, a B.A. Final student, “Recently Manpreet Kaur, a student of Plus II, told a filming crew from a popular national news channel that she had given up the practice of copying, which she did in a previous school. When the anchor retorted that she should be ashamed talking on camera about having cheated, Manpreet promptly replied, ‘I should have been ashamed when I was cheating and not when I am confessing.’ This is the confidence imparted by the Tugalwala way.”

But the school gets endorsements not just from its students but from senior educationists. As Jai Roop Singh, Vice Chancellor of GNDU, observes, “Visiting the Tugalwala College for me was a new and unique experience. Students study as well as work. Other institutions need to learn from this one.”

(Women’s Feature Service)

Pics courtesy: Prabhjot Gill/WFS

Feminist Kolaveri on Declining Sex Ratio

L Lyrics composed by Sharmila Rege, Sneha Gole & Sugeeta Roy Choudhury

( I have edited few lines, so that its not anti abortion language )

Yo people

We are singing song,

Hard-hit song, Hit-Hard song

Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di, Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di

Message correct

Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di

Sex Ratio up please

Why this Kolaveri (…..) – haan Di

Boy on moon moon-u

Girl out of sight-u

Social background wrong-u wrong-u

So girls’ future black-u

Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di, Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di

No one want girl girl – u

All hearts black – u

Change it now now now

Or future dark

Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di. Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di

Pa pa pa pein pa pa pa pein, pa pa pein pa pa pein

Pa pa pa pein pa pa pa pein, pa pa pein pa pa pein

Super people

Ready 1-2-3-4

Ok people

Now tune change

Stop the discrimination

Everywhere baba!

Stop this discrimination

Give da girls Equality

Slogans will not work

Change structures

Come together,

Ratio will change gear

Sathi sathi

O my sathi

Show to me how,

Low how, why now

Ratio should change how-u

Friend, no girl is discriminated now,

She is happy wow-u

This song for girls n boys

We have a choice

Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di, Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di

Daughter-in-laws attract more Migrant brides in Gujarat

Feb12, 2012 ,AHMEDABAD: Migrant daughters-in-law are ensuring that they bring more women to Saurashtra, where certain communities are facing a severe shortage of girls because of a skewed sex ratio. In Ajab village, 50 km off Junagadh, for instance, Kirit Adhera got married to Chaya, a Marathi girl from Nagpur. He was not able to find a bride in his Koli Patel samaj and agreed to the alliance brought by an agent. The daughter-in-law prompted more marriages from the region and now the village boasts of seven Marathi daughter-in-laws.

The skewed sex ratio has led to a big number of boys not able to find brides. Such is the situation that apart from Gujarati tribal girls who were brought in for marriages by agents, there are also number of Malayali, Marathi and Oriya bahus being brought into the region and accepted in families,” says Kaushik Pande of Subhash Mahila College in Junagadh.

“There are five boys who got wives from Odisha, UP and Maharashtra,” says Bharat Patel, an elder from Alidra.

In village Madhavpur in Porbandar, there are five boys who married girls from Kerala, Odisha and UP when attempts to find a bride in their community failed. There are over 100 ageing bachelors in the village looking for brides in vain.

“Scarcity of girls in the community has made us to accept brides from out-state. Boys get desperate after series of rejection. Three boys have got married to girls from Kerala”, says Rambhai Kargatiya, son of village sarpanch Maliben.

Verse case scenario

Syeda Hameed | February 11, 2012

 Sufi poetry could inspire a change in attitudes to the girl child.

Maulana Altaf Husain Hali was born in Panipat in 1837. Panipat was then the centre of Sufi thought, whose leading light in India was Bu Ali Shah Qalandar. Like most poets Hali began writing on themes of love and nature, but soon decided to use his poetry as a vehicle for social reform. What saddened him the most were two pervasive ills: oppression of women and girl children, and the reduced state of the Muslim community. Like most non-conformists, Hali’s poetic corpus met with initial skepticism, even open disdain. His rejection of traditional themes and conventional language was derided by other elite poets of the time. Hali had chosen to write for the masses in a language that was a blend of Urdu and Hindi. Such non-embellished, often clearly feminist poetry was deemed unworthy both in theme and expression. Interestingly, in his Young India, Mahatma Gandhi struck a different note. He famously wrote that if anyone wanted to learn the “real language” of India, which was neither pure Hindi nor pure Urdu, the best example was Hali’s ‘Munajat-e-Bewa’ or ‘Lament of the Widow. ‘ He called it a ‘model language’ for a new India.

It was a bright winter morning when our President stood in Hali Maidan, Panipat, a couple of weeks ago, and expressed her pain at our declining child sex ratio – as reflected in the steep drop seen in the last decade. She challenged Haryana, a state which has terribly low overall sex ratios, to become the leader not only in India, but in the world, considering that only 150 years ago their very own poet wrote these lines that gave women pride of place: Ai maon, behnon, betiyon duniya ki zeenat tumse hai, Mulkon ki basti ho tumhin, qaumon ki izaat tumse hai (O Sisters, mothers, daughters, you are the ornaments of the world;You are the life of nations, the dignity of civilisations)

As a child I had heard Hali being recited in my home. Hali was my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather. He wrote a poem for his six year-old great granddaughter – my father’s younger sister, for whom I was named. My elders made me believe that the poem was written for me;a realisation that made me feel self conscious but secretly happy. As I recounted in Hali’s simple words, of the family’s love for the little girl, that day, I sensed that the audience was identifying with each word praising the innocence and intelligence of a small girl, a lass who was described by the poet as an unending source of happiness for all.

When his famous lines about the status of mothers were recited from the podium, the huge crowd listened with rapt attention. Hali’s poem made a single assertion: that to whatever exalted station men rose, it was to women that they owed their very existence. After all, what were they, at birth, if not but a lump of flesh? This lump of flesh, how would it have been nurtured If the mother had not held it to her bosom, The Sufis, the scholars, the men of God, the Prophets, The intellectuals, the savants, All creatures of God who evolved advanced, The ladders they climbed were held in their mothers’ laps.

That day Panipat perhaps stood poised to lead the country in reclaiming its girl child. A poet, a president and a populace is a formidable combination. It can break vicious mindsets. Hali was indeed born to break all stereotypes – the one about ‘Maulanas’, especially their antipathy for women’s rights;the stereotype about self-indulgent poets;and finally, the stereotype about Haryana, especially. Jo ilm mardon ke liye samjha ha gaya aab-e-hayat, Tehra tumhare haq mein roh zehr-e-halahal sar ba sar, Aaya hai waqt insaaf ka nazdeek hai yaumul hisaab, Dunya ko dena hoga in haq talfiyon ka wan jawab. “ (Learning, which for men was considered the elixir of life, For you it was considered lethal, venomous The day of judgment dawns, justice will smite, The world will then answer for depriving you of rights).

(The writer is member, Planning Commission), 11th feb, TimesCrest,

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