Limits of male chauvinism?

Are there any limits to Indian male chauvinism? Perhaps no. In a society so rigidly dominated by fossilised systems of caste and patriarchy, there is really little hope for women to gain any dignity; in fact, their recognition is violently denied even in spaces for which they struggle and make their unquestionable mark, in spite of a whole range of social stereotypes working against them.

From the day a baby girl is born (and is allowed to survive), the whole family waits and prepares for the day when she would depart for her ‘real home’ and instantly lose her identity in all aspects; she often gets a new maiden name, her caste now is that of her husband’s family and she is cast into a new cultural and linguistic role.

The Rio Olympics was saved for India by some young girls including Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa; Jaisha’s battle is another story, still being investigated. There is no doubt that all the individual sports persons and teams did their best. Their failures only display our negligence and lack of facilities we provide them.

Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa achieved what they did, not because of us but in spite of us. All of them are in their early twenties; imagine how young and for how many years they must have struggled even to get to Rio. The least their achievements can do is to make the Indian male a little humble and learn to treat women with some respect. Not many people even knew their names before Rio.

All the three girls came from very ordinary families who struggled hard to see their daughters reach amazing heights fighting all kinds of gender stereotypes in society. Sindhu’s parents worked in the Indian Railways and were both volleyball players. Sindhu chose badminton and her parents stood by her side. Travelling over 50 miles every day, Sindhu started training at Gopichand’s academy before the age of eight years; her source of inspiration, Gopichand.

Sakshi’s father is a bus conductor and mother an anganwadi worker. She was inspired by her grandfather and started training at the age of 12 in a sport ‘not meant for girls’ at all. Many people discouraged her, even mocked at her, little realising that 12 years later she would fetch a medal from Rio in wrestling.

Dipa, daughter of a weightlifting coach and a housewife, started training at the age of six and became the first Indian woman to participate in Olympic vault competition after 52 years. She secured the fourth position in the world performing a Produnova. Perhaps no Indian male has reached that level during the last 50 years.

Aesthetic vaults
It was such a delight to watch Dipa perform the highly aesthetic vaults including the dangerous Produnova at the Olympics. Produnova is a high-risk manoeuvre involving two somersaults mid-air and then landing on one’s feet. It is claimed that it can lead to serious injuries, including paralysis. Dipa did take the risk and did us proud getting the fourth place at Rio; missed the medal by a whisker, as they say.

Imagine people trying hard to find male hands behind these achievements. Perhaps the worst was the hunt for their caste; how does it matter whether Sindhu is a Dalit or not? Whether some Maliks could be Brahmins? Karmakar? May be people thought it was the auspicious days of Rakhi and other festivals that did it all; all dominated essentially by males.

Many turned their attention to their male coaches and their academies: Gopichand, Ishwar Dahiya and Bisweshwar Nandi (forget Soma Nandi – Dipa’s first coach – for the time being?). There is no doubt that their contribution to the achievements of these players is immense, yet they cannot take even an iota away from the personal efforts and struggles of Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa.

In the battle for the gold in badminton, Sindhu snatched the opening game from the hands of a world champion, Carolina Marin. I was very excited since Sindhu was fighting like a great warrior for every point and I thought there was a great chance of her winning the Rio final. I sent messages to several people.

Fingers crossed, some said. Some turned to Rakhi; others as I am now given to understand, were quick to log on to Google to determine her caste. Still others I am told, believed that all the credit must go to her coach Gopichand. There was a general hunt for the male hand behind her success.

Sindhu got a silver. Sakshi brought us a bronze. India’s total medal tally at Rio: Two. One silver (Sindhu), one bronze (Sakshi). And look at Sindhu’s dignity and humility; when Carolina won the gold and could not control her tears, Sindhu walked up to her, embraced her, congratulated her and gracefully kept her racket on the side.

(The writer, who retired as Professor of Linguistics from the University of Delhi and is Professor Emeritus, Vidya Bhawan Society, Udaipur)

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