December 17, 2016 1:19:23 am
MAHAVIR SINGH Phogat, who trained his daughters to become medal-winning wrestlers and whose story is now the subject of a Bollywood film, said he was the first campaigner against the gender taboos that surrounded the girl child in Haryana, 15 years before the government’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Beti Bachao Beti Padhao in Panipat last year. Yeh kaam toh mere se sikho. Mein hun beti bachao beti padhao. Humne beti padhai bhi aur khilai bhi. People were initially against me but I would tell them wrestling is their padhai.
At Panipat, I got a phone call two days before the function to go with Geeta and Babita. Why would I go? For the inauguration, there are ministers and why not daughters of the state?” said Phogat, while speaking at the The Indian Express Idea Exchange.
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The 55-year-old Phogat, played by Aamir Khan in Dangal, trained India’s first Commonwealth Games woman wrestling champion in 2010, his eldest daughter, Geeta. He continues to train his four daughters — the other three Babita, Ritu, Sangeeta — and his brother’s daughters Vinesh and Priyanka, apart from several other girls, at his akhada in Bilali village of Haryana’s Bhiwani district.
“At present, over 20 girls are training at my akhada. But it wasn’t the case when I started. Some dangals would refuse our entries and they said I was bringing a bad name to wrestling. But I wanted my daughters to wrestle. Medals aise nahi aate. Akhada main har roz 6 ghante pasina bahaya hai, tab ja ke medal aye hain. It was not easy but medals have also helped to change the mindset of people in villages.
People come from other villages and ask me to train their daughters,” added Phogat.
Referring to the annual wrestling competition for men launched by the Haryana government this March, called Haryana Kesri Dangal with Rs 1 crore as prize, he said, “CM Khattar launched the Dangal in Gurgaon earlier and I was disappointed seeing that. On one side, the government says Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and they talk of honouring girls. On the other, there is only dangal for boys. Why not a dangal for the state’s girls with the same prize money? Government itself is discriminating. Maine nahi kia kabhi bhedbhav.”
Phogat’s younger daughters Ritu and Sangeeta spoke about their father’s tough training schedule. “Our father is a strict coach. The movie does not show half of it. We could not think of growing our hair long or watching TV when he was home. He still makes sure we do 20 rounds of the 100 m track before every training session and when he is at the akhada, we cannot even think of skipping training,” said Ritu.
While the movie focuses on mud wrestling, Mahavir said training on mat is equally important as that’s the international format. While Mahavir’s trainees train on a mat at the local college and a gymnasium built by him, he rued the absence of government support. “In wrestling, training on the mat is essential. Till date, the state government has not given us any mat or equipment. PM Modi held a meeting after the Rio Olympics and said India’s target is 50 medals at next Olympics. I say spend the money where the players need it most and medals will come. Diet and training equipment are what kids need initially. We have only 3-4 mats in our district. Why not provide mats to every akhada?” said Phogat.
Phogat also spoke about Geeta’s six-year wait to be made DSP with Haryana Police, as promised in the government’s then sports policy, after she became India’s first female wrestler to win gold at CWG. Geeta had to move Punjab and Haryana High Court this year before being appointed DSP two months ago.
“Governments discriminate between players of the same state. Geeta was among the gold medal winners from the state in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Geeta’s name was among the first on the list of medallists in line for the appointment according to Haryana’s sports policy. But we had to wait for over six years. We struggled for our right as it was also given to other medal winners. And, after more than five years, we went to the HC, which decided in our favour. If a player has to beg for the honour, what kind of policy is this?” said Phogat.
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