On September 3, the birthday of Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, her mother Sudesh would certainly be remembering how this girl-child has brought so much luck, happiness and glory into their lives.
It was their big day in 1992 when she and her bus conductor-husband Sukhbir Singh, brought home their daughter Sakshi from a nearby hospital where she was born. Jobless Sudesh was desperately seeking a job at an anganwadi in the vicinity. Even as she was in labour at the hospital, she asked her husband many times whether there was any letter in this regard (job).
There was a steady stream of visitors of family and friends who dropped by to congratulate the happy mother and check on her baby girl, assuring Sudesh that it was ‘Lakshmi’ herself who had come to her home. Sudesh had no doubts. She was convinced that the birth of her daughter was the harbinger of good times. Her joy knew no bounds when a postman delivered a sarkari (government) letter informing her of her appointment as an anganwadi worker. The celebrations at the Malik household had just begun.
It was also the beginning of a new life for the couple. Sakshi had brought luck into their lives.
On September 3 when not just Haryana but the entire country sings “Happy birthday Sakshi” there will also be an effort to showcase to the world how “a girl child can change lives of their parents.”
The Malik family’s daughter has become the first Indian woman wrestler to have won an Olympic medal. Sakshi’s bronze came in the 58-kg freestyle women wrestling in the recently concluded Rio Games. Looking back, probably it was for this day that Sakshi’s parents had decided to shift base from Mokhra village to the main Rohtak city after her class VIII. Her tryst with destiny had begun.
One day when Sakshi told her parents that “she wanted to train for some sport and needed to be in a school where facilities are available,” her parents understood what she was trying to say.
Very active and more energetic than other children of her age in the vicinity, the Maliks took her to Chhotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak, where the precocious child chose wrestling as “her sport!” The reaction from all and sundry, family and well-wishers was on expected lines — initial shock and horror at a girl wanting to follow her heart and that too for such a ‘manly sport like wrestling’, followed by ‘sound advice’ to drop wrestling and choose any other sport!
But perhaps the naysayers had not reckoned with the steely resolve of this pint-sized dynamo, who was as focused about her choices as she was adamant. Unstinting support of her parents was the best morale booster she had to make her dreams a reality.
Sudesh was always by her daughter’s side during her practice sessions at the stadium. Sakshi would carry her cycle on her shoulders as she would have to cross the railway bridge every time she headed for the stadium for her training sessions.
The entire family was witnessing the “junoon” (passion) of this girl. For them it was a phenomenon that was unfolding with all its delectable nuances everyday. No one in the family had any history of being a sportsperson.
They were now getting used to hearing ‘sarcastic comments’ from village members. “Kya time hai bhai, ib chhoriyaan bhi pehalwan banegi… (What time has come, will girls also be wrestlers now?)” But Sakshi was made of sterner stuff; she had after all inherited her grandfather Badlu Ram’s genes who used to take part in village-level wrestling contests.
Undeterred by the snide comments, rather more resolved to ‘show them all what a mere girl could do’, Sakshi started participating in sporting events and winning medals at all levels. Be it school, district, state or national, Sakshi was conquering all, effectively putting an end to all the silly buzz doing the rounds at her village. Rather, the village elders and other community members were seen gauging her chances in the Olympics or Asian Games!
Sakshi’s parents also were spared from worrying about her studies. She was not just excelling in sport but she was also good in studies. She completed her graduation from Vaish College crowning it with a Masters in Physical Education from Maharishi Dayanand University (MDU), Rohtak, with good marks.
Sakshi was initially trained by coach Ishwar Singh Dahiya, but 2010 onwards, coach Mandeep groomed her for international bouts. After her silver medal in the 14th Senior National Wrestling Championship in 2011 till Olympic-qualifying tournament held in Turkey in 2016, Sakshi followed a tough routine.
Getting up at 4.30 am and following a tough practice schedule of five hours every day was just one of the things in her rigorous regimen. She was also socially aware, having witnessed the social evils around her during her growing-up years.
Honour-killings, female foeticide, skewed sex-ratio and caste-based divisions were all simultaneously whirring around in the environment this girl champion grew up.
It was in the early hours of August 18 (Thursday) finally when Sakshi silenced all her critics forever. The Olympic bronze, first for India in Rio, came as a breath of fresh air and hope for a medal-starved nation. She has already become a role model for many.
At 2.50 am, the country saw Sakshi with the Tricolour draped around her shoulders, raising her arms in joy. She was crying, she was laughing, she was exulting. But what was she crying about? She was the proud winner of bronze, the first to break India’s medal jinx at Rio, scripting history as the fourth female Indian athlete and the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal and climb the podium at the world’s biggest sporting event... Then why?
Her tears of joy were tinged with sadness, the heartbreak, the taunts the humiliations of 12 years heaped on her and her family by all those who were now standing up in praise and clapping at her success, back home. This was her answer to everyone of those who put hurdles at every step she took, people who berated her parents, telling them that it was not right for a girl to get into sport, and certainly not wrestling.
People who advised her on how to walk, how not to smile in public, how to avoid staying out in the evenings, and all that.
Sakshi’s comeback win over her opponent, Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova, has certainly set a new course for the girl child. The journey from Rohtak to Rio has opened a new opportunity for every woman of Haryana. Perhaps, never again in this Jatland, will people discourage girls from taking up a sport of their choice while growing up.
After her 14-hour-long flight to India, Sakshi now just wants to eat and do what was forbidden to her in order to keep her weight in check for the Games. She is a fit candidate to be the brand ambassador for Haryana’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Beti Khilao campaign.
The khap panchayats, which were earlier known for their patriarchal attitude towards females, are all lining up to bestow accolades to the first female wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal. “Dream like me,” Sakshi should be telling all the girls around her.
Sakshi opened her eyes in the Malik household to bring happiness in the life of her parents. Twenty-four years later, her birthday should be celebrated to turn around the lives of millions of girls in Haryana with yet another Jat kind of ‘agitation’.