In India, wrestling or kushti is known as a predominantly male sport. And a few schoolgirls in the city are out to change that notion, all the while resisting parental pressure.
On Saturday, 65 girls from Mumbai participated in the inter-school wrestling tournament, which was organised by the district sports office. One among them is 16-year-old Trupti Pulekar from Karmaveer Bhaurov Patil Vidyalaya, who took up the sport in spite of her parents’ warnings and ultimately won the U-19, 51kg title.
After getting inspired by legendary Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar, Pulekar decided to train under coach Gajanan Phodse almost two years ago. And she did it on the sly, knowing that her parents will put an end to her training if they knew about it. It was only after winning a medal at a school competition that she revealed her passion to her parents, who grew supportive and later helped her win the U-19, 51kg district level title last year.
“I don’t know why we should be treated as inferior,” says Pulekar. “I’ve challenged guys and beaten them too.” She trains in wrestling for three hours every morning and practises kabaddi at a club in Sion in the evenings.
The sport got a boost in 2010 during the Commonwealth Games, when Geeta Phogat won India’s first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling in the 55 kg freestyle category. At the Sports Authority of India, four girls are currently training under coach Jagmal Singh, who points out that girls from rural areas are more interested in picking up the sport. “Girls from the city aren’t interested in taking up wrestling,” says Singh.
For many young female wrestlers, social pressure remains an issue. Ruksar Quershi of KT Gaikwad school confides that her mother didn’t allow her to take up wrestling full-time, fearing that it will set her neighbours’ tongues wagging. “Only when I told my mom that women were never free since India’s independence and that we should use our freedom today did she allow me to train for this competition,” says Quershi.
Fifteen-year-old student Pooja Sutari gets teased by her classmates. “They ask, why are you taking part in wrestling? Are you a boy?” says Sutari, adding that it does not bother her. “They just say it because they are jealous that I can participate, while they aren’t allowed to.”
However, a blessed few have it relatively easy. Thirteen-year-old Kajal Ali from KT Gaikwad school won the U-19, 48kg title on Saturday and attributes her success to her dad. “He tells me to go out and shine in whichever sport I play. But when it came to wrestling, I was just too scared to participate. But I realised this will make me strong enough to give it back to anyone who teases me. Well, if I can’t hit them, I’ll at least pin them to the floor!” she smiles. The young wrestler adds that girls should not shy away from taking up a contact sport, for that will make them strong.
Hailing from lower-middle class families, these school children cannot afford to follow a wrestler’s diet, which is rich in dry fruits. They are simply encouraged to eat food that gives them strength. Prakash Tanawade, secretary of the Mumbai wrestling federation, says, “We ask them to have milk and bananas because that is the cheapest nutritious food.”