On October 15, the Indian Women’s Cricket team won the 8th Asia cup in great style, turning the final match into a one-sided game which they won by 8 wickets in 8 overs. The Indian women played exceedingly well throughout the tournament, putting in an exceptional all-round performance. There was no dominance of one or two players, all team-mates contributed well. If it was captain Harmanpreet Kaur or Shafali Verma or Renuka Singh contributing greatly on one day, it could be the turn of Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma the next day to make waves. All played well with great team-spirit.
Just a few days earlier India’s women cricketers had returned from a record-breaking victorious tour of England. If such great successes had been achieved by the men’s cricket team, the applause would have been much greater, but the women seem to be content with the more limited acclaim that has come their way. What may be making them happier is that their great performance, together with the encouraging performance of several other women sportspersons in international events in recent times, is gradually paving the way for better support for women’s sports in India at several levels.
Still, old biases persist. There are still several reports from time to time of unfair, unjust treatment meted out to women sportspersons at several levels. Hence there is need for a campaign to ensure equal support for women in sports at all levels.
What is more, it needs to be emphasized that this support should not be confined to a chosen few who have made it to the top. Good support to women, girls and girl children in sports should be able to reach even remote villages. In due course, it will be seen that a lot of great talent is discovered in the hamlets of dalits and adivasis, in the communities of fishers and boatmen, farm and forest workers, small farmers and sharecroppers.
Moreover the success in terms of national and international sports events, while welcome, is relatively less important compared to the sense of freedom, enjoyment, excitement and team sprit which women are able to experience with their participation in sports events. The ongoing sports events of Chattisgariya Olympics, state –level sports events organized in the state of Chattisgarh, appear to confirm this.
There are many indications that women who are participating enthusiastically with their village teams in traditional games like kho-kho, pithu and even kabaddi are really enjoying themselves , enjoying their freedom and abandon. It is amazing that even several elderly women, including grandmothers, have happily joined this celebration of sports.
In several villages women participants are more than men, and their enthusiasm levels are higher too. The high participation levels of women have been helped by the liberal attitudes by the organizers in terms of dress and related issues. The fact that western concepts of sports and sports dress may be considered alien by rural married sportswomen is understandable in local cultural context, but rather than allowing this to discourage women from participating, it makes much better sense to just accept the way rural women would like to dress while playing. So at some places there were even instances of women playing kabaddi in saree. Frankly, it does not matter at all if the women players are happy and comfortable.
Ultimately the principle of women being entirely free to choose their dress applies, although in international events it is the western norms that dominate as world norms and this may already be discouraging several women from other cultures from participating.
The point that is sought to be made here is that in terms of the promotion of sports among women and girls, the central point of decision making is not so much the yearning for international success and national glory, rather it should be much more the enjoyment and joy of women players themselves as well as the sense of freedom they have from occasional life away from the daily grind.
With this spirit the promotion of women’s sports will have a much wider social purpose and its success will not be measured in terms of medals fetched and tournaments won, as appears to be the case today.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Navjeevan and When the Two Streams Met.