It’s not often that a defining moment arrives in the history of Indian sports that makes every Indian feel proud of. Nor do we see Indians irrespective of differences glued to TV sets watching in total stillness an international sports competition other than cricket. But September 17 presented an unusual spectacle of people thronged in front of TV sets watching the ace Indian shuttler Pusarla Venkata Sindhu battling it out against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in a thrilling summit clash to clinch the women's singles title at the Korea Open Super series in Seoul. In an energy-sapping contest that lasted an hour and 23 minutes Sindhu saw off eighth seed Okuhara 22-20 11-21 20-18 and exacted her sweet revenge on her heart-wrenching World Championship final loss to the Japanese at Glasgow last month. And India exploded in celebrations.
Celebrating winners of medals in international sports competitions have not been rare phenomena in India. The sense of pride, glory and hope that the Sindhu-phenomenon has created in India where even tiny tots have begun to clutch badminton racquets in their little hands reveals that there is more to Sindhu’s triumph than what meets the eyes.
It has been raining accolades and awards for Sindhu right from the President and Prime Minister of India, Andhra Pradesh government, Bollywood and sports stars, family, friends and fans across India and abroad. She has been lauded for taking India to the top of the world of quality badminton. PM Modi wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to @Pvsindhu1 on emerging victorious in the Korea Open Super Series. India is immensely proud of her accomplishment.”
If Sindhu’s huge win in Seoul comes as revenge against snatching away from her a chance to win a gold medal weeks earlier in the final of the World Championships at Glasgow by Okuhara, it’s also a cry against snatching away the basic human rights of life, dignity, education and opportunities of development from India’s girl children. With Sindhu’s victory, the curtain falls on the Korea Open Super series. But it raises a bunch of change in the thought-pattern of Indian parents, schools and society: It’s a challenge to those parents who say, “I want my daughter to be a doctor/ engineer/ housewife” to say “I’ll let my daughter follow her dream.” It’s a slap on the patriarchal mindset in India that “good girls don't wear short clothes". Girls shouldn’t be aggressive. Girls should be soft spoken and never scream or shout.
India is a perpetual paradox where mechanisms that save as well as kill girl children go hand in hand. While female foeticide is a ticking bomb on India, there’s no dearth of programmes to protect girl child in the country. Balri Rakshak Yojana, Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yogana, Balika Samridhi Yojana, Beti Hai Anmol, Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana, Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Scheme, Dhanalakshmi, Bhagyalakshmi Rajalakshmi, Ladli and the more recent ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao ("Save daughters, educate daughters"), the list keeps lengthening. The reason why these schemes meet with very little evidence of success is everyone’s guess. Schemes and projects are no human beings, they are just arrangements. Turning an assortment of people into human beings needs a different project that addresses their inhumanity and appeal for putting humanity in them. The democratic values of equality and justice, enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution teach us not just political principles but essentially moral and ethical values vital for the very survival of any civilized nation.
India’s Sindhu phenomenon has left many a takeaway for a generation of sports players. It has taught that consistency wins, patience pays. Much more than pure skills and fighting spirit, a player at the highest level needs a consistent capacity to keep learning from failures while focusing on success. Sindhu did exactly this by compelling Okuhara to play on her terms of pace and power and resist the urge to manically go hard at the second set. Sindhu thus conserved her energies for the decider and proved to be quick learner. Sindhu, the Olympic Silver medallist, bagged her third World Championships Podium at Glasgow and proved her ability to settle scores at Seoul. She made her place secure whenever the biggest titles in badminton will be decided. Sindhu has the habit of dreaming big and chasing her dreams through every big sports event. “When you play for your country, the effort is more important than the outcome. I know medals matter, but when people put in more than 100%, it shows,” says Sindhu. And that’s patriotism.
India is blessed with powerful women athletes of International fame like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik who make their country proud. Their contribution to the image of India is a slap on the face of a country where the majority of people frown upon the birth of a girl child and deny them their freedom and other human rights. They prove their mettle and call on the Indian patriarchy to stop its gender based discrimination and nurture their girl child with love. It should be the moral obligation of every Indian to encourage India’s girl children to participate enthusiastically in sports events. Schools and educational instructions irrespective of private or public status should be supported by state and central governments with financial aid. Sports activities should be made mandatory for school children.
PV Sindhu is an incredible phenomenon that inspires young India to step out in pursuit of sports championships. The government ought to give incentives to parents with girl children through better retirement benefits, honouring them in public forums. It should initiate social change by promoting and popularizing widow remarriage and getting rid of the dowry menace etc. This can be carried out through the use of mass media campaigns and active involvement of social and religious institutions to enhance the importance of girl children in India.(Published on 24th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 39)