Sunday, May 22, 2022
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The Suns Of This Soil

Haryana’s girls and their families have found in sports a way out of the confines of the khap

The Suns Of This Soil
Ring Queen Photograph by Getty Images

As Haryana’s 23-year-old Ri­­o bronze winner Sakshi Malik battled her Kyrgyz opponent, her close friend and fellow wrestler Suman Kundu watched the telecast, her heart pounding. Occasionally, Kundu let out inv­oluntary cries of anguish and yelled in Sakshi’s support, much to her family’s amusement. “Sakshi won, but I feel I have won,” says Kundu, a 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.

Kundu’s solidarity with the new star in India’s sporting firmament isn’t just a marker of their personal ties. There’s a more structural reason why Malik’s victory feels no less than her own. The intense odds Haryana’s sportswomen face in this doggedly male-ordered society are one and the same. Should one woman player beat those odds—high rate of crimes against women, male-child preference and dowry—it shines a beacon of hope for all other girls waiting in the wings. “Whenever we go for sports camps or competitions, the first thing we do is keep the phones in our hotel rooms off the hook. Otherwise we are besieged with crank calls from male players and their friends,” says Kundu. Such harassment can continue into the wee hours of the night, with phone calls disrupting the women’s team’s sleep and marring on-field performance.

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