Of Sakshis, Sindhus, and Dipas of India

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Rio 2016 became a much talked about event in India, and our country was trolled by  international media for being the worst Olympics participating nation ever in terms of per person medal count.

This time our contingent was 117 strong. Our medal tally: 2. One bronze (Sakshi Malik, wrestling) and one silver (PV Sindhu, badminton).

The New Zealand Herald has called us the ‘worst country at the Olympics’ and Brit journalist Piers Morgan unleashed a Twitter war calling it embarrassing to have won just 2 medals for 1.2billion people. Indians reacted wildly – as many supporting, seconding his views and as many trashing him.

What none of this could dampen, however, were two celebrations: One in Hyderabad welcoming PV Sindhu, and the other, welcoming Sakshi Malik in Bahadurgarh, Haryana. These women are our medal winners.

There was a joke shared recently on my Whatsapp group: India mein, subzi se leke medals tak lene ladkiyon ko hi jana padta hai (In India, to get anything from vegetables to medals, it’s only the girls that have to go!). It wasn’t long before it descended into a gender discourse.

But, what was worse was the official line being taken by well-known personalities such as the office of the Chief Minister, Haryana, and others. Two women bringing medals and Dipa doing the deadly Produnova were instances used to endorse the anti-female foeticide & infanticide stance.

I don’t think it does anything for the real message: That girls have the right to exist, thrive, and live; safely, securely, and with love.

Sakshi’s father is a bus conductor with DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) and PV Sindhu’s father is with the Railways, while Dipa’s father is a top weight lifting coach with the Sports Authority of India. All three have this in common: extremely supportive families. Sindhu’s father is an Arjuna awardee and her mother a volleyball player. So, a sports background certainly helped.

What really helped, though, was that their families have human beings, who feel, love, and support one another. Many of us don’t. Those of us who are daunted by the birth of a daughter because we’ll have to spend a lifetime educating & caring for them without any RoI (Return on Investment) i.e. when she gets married, which, to make possible again will need my life’s savings, we are the people who abort the foetus, kill them, deprive them, harass them.

This is a financial conundrum that poses as a cultural/traditional conundrum, that is the truth and I will say it, believe it or not. This culture only looks at what do I, as a parent, as the one in whom this family originated, wants. That’s why a girl leaving home after marriage is seen as a loss, and a boy whom you can ‘keep’, who’ll also take a wife down the line (with the dowry she’ll bring), who’ll both look after me in my old, seen as a profitable way to make a living.

You think it’s not that simple? This is a tradition that started in an agrarian economy, peasantry, it can’t be more complicated than that either. Yes, the honour, heir, angles got added later, but the basics remain.

Now when we forward the idea that we should let girls live because they’ll bring us medals, is the same as saying keep the boy because he’ll bring in the livelihood. But we all know how the latter affection has turned out: it has given birth to a rigid patriarchy that affects boys just as badly.

Going with a wrong idea for short-term gains is ultimately, WRONG. Both genders have a right to live. Period. If as parents you think your culture puts you as a daughter’s parent at a disadvantage, then you know what your fight looks like and you should have it in you to fight it.

If you don’t you’re not a parent. You’re some scum who only sought to get laid, gambler who bet on a 50-50 chance of a desirable result, and a monster who has no conscience needed to kick in when witnessing an injustice in order to act against it. If you can’t parent a daughter, you can’t parent a son. You can’t parent. Period. And the same can be said about a nation.

So, may be you can say ‘Beti Bachao’, while choosing Sakshi Malik as its brand ambassador, I see us women day in and day out wrestling with social and political apathy, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, psychological violence, gender-based discrimination. I see our hopes doing a Produnova every day a significant figure and public face rubbishes our predicament as victims of all kinds of violence and injustices. Especially men saying that era of discrimination is officially over now that we have put girls through schools and women through colleges.

To them I have to say, there is life and then there’s living. To live means to have the hope of achieving something that is important to you. Most of our women don’t have that. PV Sindhu’s family moved closer to Hyderabad to make it possible for her to keep training. Her father was enlisted in Pullela Gopichand’s ‘Project Rio’ a year before the games were to begin. And he took an 8-month leave from work to spend every minute by his daughter’s side, constantly motivating her. This, in a country where a lot of men don’t even visit their newly born daughter in the hospital.

It is these families that are families in a true sense of the word. They know the meaning of struggle and their kid winning a medal is just one of the many wins they have won along the way. Every family that has a daughter fights these battles every day of their lives. I think of my parents who constantly worry about how I am doing on the mean streets of Mumbai.

I dedicate this post to all those families raising happy daughters (also happy daughters in law) – you’re the only real parents in this country. Your daughters don’t have medals but that’s just one small thing. And to Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, and PV Sindhu, thank you for being our cheerleaders!

(picture: Dipa Karmakar, a still from a youtube video, got off the net)