By Rimli Bhattacharya
Sakshi Malik was born on 3 September, 1992 at Mokhra Village, Rohtak district in Haryana. Her father, Sukhbir, is a bus conductor with Delhi Transport Corporation and mother, Sudesh, is a superintendent with a local health centre.
Haryana is famous for producing wrestlers, across genders. Though this state is also noted for honor killing and female foeticide, Sakshi was blessed with a wrestler grandfather, Badlu Ram. Her parents encouraged her decision to take up wrestling at the tender age of eleven, when she developed a passion for wrestling, looking up to her grandfather as an inspiration. She started practicing under Ishwar Dahiya at a local akhara in Rohtak.
Not many knew her until she won a bronze medal in the 58 Kg category at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. She is the first Indian female wrestler to win that medal, which she grabbed after a tough fight with an equally determined Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. She was only twenty-three and Aisuluu was much loftier than Sakshi. Aisuluu represented spectacular strength in the first round with Sakshi initially going in the defense mode. Though Aisuluu led in the one-sided opening round with five points, Sakshi with her never – say – die attitude fought back with eight points in the second round. There were a few seconds left in the match when Sakshi made a smashing pull over and won the game.
It was only after the suspension of favored Geeta Phogat for her failure in the stunt held in Mongolia that Sakshi could enter the Rio Olympics. It took Sakshi ten years of tremendous practice with no holidays, grueling lessons under her equally tough coach to win the bronze medal.
Today Sakshi is again back in the news for winning a gold medal in the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships held in Johannesburg, South Africa. In the 62 Kg freestyle category, Sakshi won against New Zealand’s Tayla Tuahine Ford with a score of 13-2.
Along with Sakshi, Sushil Kumar, the double Olympic medalist, clinched the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. So it was a double celebration for India.
Sakshi had only Ishwar Dahiya as her coach. She had to wrestle with boys to improve her muscle strength. Since Rohtak is a patriarchal place, her coach Dahiya had to face protests from the locals for training Sakshi. She always gave a suitable reply whenever someone challenged her passion for wrestling.
In 2007, her coach made a request to GS Mandher, the then president of the Indian wrestling federation, to include her name in the training camp but it was declined. Later she did get a chance to practice with senior wrestlers like Geeta Phogat, who was already famous.
At 18, she first tasted victory by bagging a bronze in the 59 Kg category at the 2010 junior world championship. Since then there was no looking back. In 2014, she featured in the international news by winning a gold medal in the 60 Kg category at the Dave Schultz International Wrestling Championship.
Employed with the Indian Railways in the commercial department, Delhi branch, Sakshi is also a part of the JSW Sports Excellence Program. She got promoted after she bagged the bronze medal at Rio Olympics.
She has also won the Padma Shri in 2017, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2016 and cash prizes from several state governments, Indian Railways, Olympic association, and a lot more.
Speaking in medical terms, wrestling can be fatal to a woman. A wrong move, a wrong landing, or a wrong welly can land up with a lifetime injury. It can cause an injury to the spine, on the pelvis, on the chest, on the uterus, on the shoulders, and the wrestler can remain crippled throughout her life. On injuries to female wrestlers, whatculture writes: “World Wrestling Entertainment applied the tagline “Sexy, Smart and Powerful” to its Divas years ago and, for the most part that has most certainly been the case […]. While the show has done an excellent job of giving fans some insight into the dramatic lives of some of their favorite female performers, it has also given them an indication of just how tough and physically grueling the wrestling business can be. Both Nikki Bella and Naomi have had major injuries documented on the show and have fought back from them to continue their in-ring careers. Those two Divas are hardly the only to suffer devastating injuries during their time in WWE. The rise of women’s wrestling early in the 2000s meant the female talent was subjected to a more dangerous, hard-hitting, high-impact wrestling style than ever before.”
In India, sports and athletics are generally neglected. The worst case of apathy was that of the treatment of the gold medal winner, Kanchanmala. Not to forget, the way the gymnast, Dipa Karmakar, who was the first Indian woman gymnast to acquire fourth position in the Olympics, was treated. Karmakar was initially rejected by a doctor at SAI (Sports Authority of India) for flat feet. It was only after her triumph in the Olympics that the government ran to shower praises on her. Little did they know that all she had was her small town coach and a stalk of gym mattresses and not even a practice vault. Abhinav Bindra, the Olympic gold medalist shooter, had to pay from his own pocket for his grueling practice. So was the case with boxer, Mary Kom. The chess grandmaster, Vishwanathan Anand, had to depend on his own funds to hone his skills.
Despite Sakshi’s success, the fact remains that the sports sector lacks proper training facilities. While India focuses a lot on cricket, which is appreciable, other games and sports are neglected. Despite government assurances, there has been no perceptible improvement. It appears one would have to expend one’s own resources to succeed in sports in India. Can we expect the government to be more pro-active like in other countries, which produce world-class athletes?
Sakshi’s gold medal is a victory for India. We hope this will encourage the sports ministry to focus on talented budding sportspersons.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Remembering Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in Bicentenary Year (1817-2017)’, edited by Dr. Irfanullah Farooqi, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.