Sports and the girl child have long been among the most neglected aspects of an otherwise proud nation that is India
The 2016 Rio Olympics, however, seem to have been a harbinger of change in this nation of a billion plus.
While our nation&’s ranking in the overall medals tally does not make for easy reading, admittedly, there is plenty that can be read between the lines.
Young Aditi Ashok completed high school only in April, and yet she gave a creditable performance competing against the very best in the world. Still a teenager, but the golfer is one to watch out for in the future as she plots her inevitable rise in the elite event.
The youngest member in the field by far, Aditi finished a very credible 41st in a first-ever Olympics participation.
A podium finish at the 2020 Tokyo Games is a very realistic ambition indeed from the 2016 European Tour member.
While many might scoff at Golf as a sport only for the well-heeled, for women in India it is no less than a sand trap. Men have long been dominating the golfing scene, and the fairer sex are still struggling to make their mark.
From a game that requires heavy investment to one which at least requires just a pair of shoes and a road.
In athletics, India has for many years, grossly underachieved. Even in Asia, Indian athletes are not serious contenders.
Enter Lalita Babar.
The 27-year-old from the humblest of backgrounds made the country sit up and take notice. For her sizzling run in the 3000m Steeplechase semifinals of 9:27:09 was not only a national record, but kept her in touching distance of the lead athletes.
After 32 long years, India had a representative in a track event at the Olympics. And while she was some way short of a medal, Lalita proved that genetics be dammed, Indians can compete with the best provided they work hard enough.
From one trail-blazer to another.
Dipa Karmakar had already created history when she qualified for the Olympics, becoming the first Indian woman to do so. Not resting on her laurels, she went all out in search for a medal, only to be agonisingly short of the mark by a few points. Death-defying the Produnova vault may be, but this smiling Tripura lass managed to complete it with élan.
Many may not understand the long-term implications of Dipa&’s feat, for it is nothing short of a miracle. Coming from an place in Tripura that is grossly underdeveloped and lacking basic civic infrastructure, she fought against the odds and proved that despite having proper facilities, one can succeed at the biggest stage.
What good are all the facilities in the world, if one never came to be?
A strange question, but one which makes sense in the economically powerful but socially backward state of Haryana. Long known for providing world-class athletes for the nation, their sex-ratio is the worst amongst all the states with high incidence of female feticide.
And yet Sakshi Malik thrilling triumph is that proverbial slap on the face for the boy-crazy nation that we live in. In a sport that until a a few days ago, was unquestionably seen as one exclusively for men, the grappler from Rohtak showed some grit to get that bronze medal, winning bout after bout in trying conditions.
For females across the vast landscape of India, Sakshi is no less than a shining beacon. Here is a sport that one can truly excel in, not just on a local or national level, but the international one as well.
After Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar, we have Sakshi whose epic tale will inspire scores of juveniles to make India a great wrestling nation.
And while India have done fairly well in Badminton, from Syed Modi to Prakash Padukone to most recently Saina Nehwal. None of them however, ever reached the finals of the Olympics, yet, young whippersnapper PV Sindhu achieved that feat at just 21.
A precocious talent, who has never shirked from hard-work, and blessed with excellent genetics, she played her heart out. From the quarterfinals to the showdown with Carolina Marin, Sindhu wouldn’t give an inch on the court.
And even after creating history when she reached the finals, she didn’t stop there. Ever the perfectionist, Sindhu went for gold. And at one time, it looked like Abhinav Bindra might just have company at the highest echelon of Indian sport. While it was not to be, the leggy Andhra lass&’s achievement is no less than anyone else&’s. She became the first Indian to win silver in badminton at Olympics.
Change has come, how will India respond? Will the sleeping giant of a nation finally awake from its slumber? And as the countdown for the next Olympics begins, how many more heroines will spring up from this diverse nation?
Only time will tell, but if recent results are any yardstick, there may be countless budding talents raring to take the nation forward if given the chance and the much needed world class infrastructure and training.