Haryana’s domination of the Indian Olympics squad—18 members out of 80; nearly 25 per cent of the contingent from a state which accounts for barely 2 per cent of the population—has had reams written about it. But this fact stands in a complicated relationship with domains beyond the sporting arena. True, ‘Jatland’ has left a big imprint over certain sports, particularly combative ones like boxing and wrestling, and it now also boasts a new crop of glamorous sportswomen. But has it had any salutary effect on the place they came from, or has it only hidden the socio-economic problems?
Numbers tell the story of Haryana’s superiority in sports better than words. Only eight sportspersons travelled from Haryana to Beijing in 2008; now a record 18 Haryanvi lads and lasses are in London. Midway between the two Olympics, Haryana contributed 54 players—the biggest representation by any state—to the 419-strong Indian contingent for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. And it accounted for a mind-boggling 37 of India’s 101 medals, including 27 of the 38 gold medals we won. In fact, if Haryana were an independent country, it would have been the third highest gold medal winner—after Australia and England—at the Delhi CWG. (The rest of India would have been sixth.) A month later, India won 65 medals at the Guangzhou Asian Games with Haryanvis picking up 20, including five of India’s 14 golds.
Haryana’s sportspersons must thank their genes (a Caucasian racial origin has been a pet pop-anthropological theory about Jats) that make them taller and stronger than the average Indian. Not for nothing are they valued as a martial race by the army and feared by adversaries on the battlefield. Genetic advantage apart, the Haryana government has pulled out all the stops to nurture sporting talent, allocating huge funds for building infrastructure like stadiums and training academies, besides cash rewards for medal winners. The bait CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda has laid out for London-bound players is irresistible: Rs 2 crore for a gold, Rs 1 crore for silver, Rs 50 lakh for bronze—doubling the prize money he announced before the Beijing Olympics. Hooda had promptly delivered on his promise too, after Beijing, the CWG and Asian Games.
On the mat Geeta and Babita Phogat practise their moves. (Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook 30 July 2012)
So far, so good. But the pertinent questions are: even if Haryanvi girls win medals in London, will their performance in the sporting arena help save the state’s baby girls, or reverse the trend of female foeticide rampant in the state? Will success on track, field, court or ring help neutralise the notorious village caste councils (khaps), who imperiously hand out death sentences to young men and women for marrying or having an affair violating khap norms? Can winning medals—or representing the country at the highest level—really inject a positive vibe about girls in society? Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan believes that “if Haryana’s sportswomen do well, the typical male Jat attitude towards women will change. Girls will be perceived as potential winners capable of enhancing the family’s reputation, prestige and wealth and most probably spared the treatment many of them are unfortunately now subjected to because they are perceived as good for nothing”.
Haryana, for the record, is sending more sportswomen to London than any other state. The glamorous Saina Nehwal, Krishna Poonia, Seema Antil, Garima Chaudhary, Annu Raj Singh and Geeta Phogat lead the pack—ironically representing a state known for a criminally skewed sex ratio and khap-sanctioned ‘honour killings’ of women who ‘stray’. Can a very public spectacle of female triumph change things for the better for Haryana’s embattled fair sex? Manisha Bhalla—part of a team that made a documentary on the khaps, Immoral Daughters in the Land of Honour—is not so sure about the spin-offs. “Mallika Sherawat, who is from Rohtak, may be cavorting with dozens of men in Bollywood, or even with a Jackie Chan. But she’s beyond the reach of the khaps, she lives in faraway Bombay and is far too powerful to be targeted,” says Manisha. “But if a young Haryanvi woman athlete is caught on camera sipping wine or cosying up to a guy at a London hotspot, then God save her...particularly if she belongs to a Dalit family. Even if they don’t harm her physically, her family will be ostracised in the village and there will be demands to ban her from Haryana.”
Fact is, even those villages where Haryana’s sports icons live have seen little transformation. In November ’08, in a horrific case, two teenaged girls were burnt alive in Kaluvas village, Bhiwani district, home to Olympic bronze-winning boxer Vijender Singh. The teenagers were doused with kerosene and set on fire for venturing out of their homes to greet friends on Diwali eve.
Sport has often enough been seen as an instrument of social change, but it has a dodgy record. Studies reveal that participation in sports or even watching it can actually fuel violence against women. Anger over outcomes, post-victory alcoholic binges, even rowdyism in the galleries raise aggression levels in players and spectators. (A study in America found the Super Bowl, the US pro football championship, was responsible for an additional 244 cases of violence against women in 15 cities.)
But Geeta Phogat, CWG medalist and India’s first woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics, told Outlook she regularly hears horror stories of newborn girls being smothered to death in pockets around her Balali village in Bhiwani. “I doubt my fame and success has really done any good to girls in a region that never tires of proclaiming how proud it is of my achievements. My sisters and I are very fortunate to have a father like Mahavir Singh who brought us up virtually like sons. Otherwise gender-based discrimination is rampant and absolutely crushing.”
Mahavir, a passionate wrestler himself, had taught his three daughters—Geeta, Babita and Mamta —wrestling since childhood. He risked social ostracism when he pitted his girls against boys in the akharas. “As our reputation grew, boys would give us a walk-over rather than risk a contest and lose to girls in a society where males have such inflated egos,” recalls Geeta. “My sisters and I are exceptions in a milieu where girls are treated like dirt. How can things ever change for the better if girls are not allowed to study beyond class VIII? The school in my village, Balali, goes only up to Class VIII. The boys are sent to nearby villages to continue their education. But for the girls it’s the end of the road.”
I was saddened to read The Body Slam (Aug 6). Haryana’s achievements at the CWG and the Olympics is grudgingly acknowledged in the article, which seemed put together to rubbish the state and its society. Yes, female foeticide is reprehensible and merits condemnation. But is Haryana the only state with a skewed female-male ratio? There are very concerted efforts, even by the khap panchayats, to reverse this trend. About the khaps themselves, though some of their decisions were bad, it must be remembered that these are the same people who protected their womenfolk from raiders and invaders. A conservative society like Haryana’s, with mores, customs and traditions that haven’t changed since time immemorial, cannot change in a few decades. We have to be patient with them. Finally, a reminder that Haryana is not a ‘Jatland’. Jats constitute only about 30 per cent of Haryanvis.
---> “But if a young Haryanvi woman athlete is caught on camera sipping wine or cosying up to a guy at a London hotspot, then God save her...particularly if she belongs to a Dalit family."
These lines are very laughable,
Would the writer him/herself allow his/her daughter/sister sipping wine or cosying up to a guy at a london hotspot?
Is sipping wine a good message to the society by the author especially for women? If it is good then send your daughter/sister to a pub for sipping wine and cosying up with guys(Just asking, i know your daughter/sister is already doing all these things, The issue is not what your daughter/sister doing, the issue, Is it necessary what you or your daughter do, the other must follow, I mean that people like you should not be allowed or given such platform for giving wrong message to the society)
If manisha bhalla or anybody else sipping wine and cosyingup with guys or girls ,nodbody have any problem, but the message should be right. The problem with you guys is that by just learning english or be convent educated makes you started thinking that you are at par with angrej. Be what you are. Try to search your roots.
Mr author you are not clear about your thoughts, think...think
If at all anyone needs to challenge gender-discrimination, it is the MALES who have to challenge the discriminatory Indian laws.
The media needs to stop brainwashing people.
Female infanticide has been exhaustively used by the female propaganda machinery. Though Haryana is probably the only place that this happens ( if at all ), the media has propagated that it happens everywhere. Natural minor variations in gender ratios have been used to propagate this myth.
More males need to challenge this anti-male propaganda.
3 D Mitra, It is people like YOU, who have to show evidence for all the author/authoresss's claims ( now that you want to 'defend' her )
The two previous comments which would deny the reality about women in Haryana, do you have any substantive responses? Can you deny what the author documents (and nearly all Indians know) about Haryana's record on women's rights?
Haryana's women oppressed?Have you met any of them?
They will oppress a bowel movement or two out of you!!
Abdi ji,what do you mean by caucasian racial origin?
Aren't we all mixed anyway?
And I take strong exception to a caucasian origin having something to do with their sporting excellence.
You sound indirectly like a KKK representative.
Muhammad Ali & Usain Bolt would disagree with caucasian racial origins having anything to do with sporting excellence.
How I wish we had some sub saharan african DNA instead of our caucasoid + australoid/proto-australoid mix!!
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