The golden girls
This year, cricketer Mithali Raj became the first Indian woman to complete 10,000 runs across formats, winning praise from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well. Just like Raj, there are several Indian sportswomen who have been bringing laurels to the country
In one of his recent monthly radio addresses to the nation Mann Ki Baat, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew the listener’s attention to the incredible feat achieved by Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team. Not only did Raj become the first Indian female cricketer to complete 10,000 runs in international cricket but also the first female international cricket personality to score 7,000 runs in one day internationals (ODI). Raj touched the first milestone figure on March 12, 2021, during the match versus South Africa and two days later, became the first woman batter to complete 7,000 runs in ODI. Interestingly enough, both these accomplishments were made in March, the month in which International Women’s Day is celebrated across the world.
In fact, Wisden, which is regarded as the holy book of cricket by fans of the sport, has named Raj as one of the five great female cricketers of all time. Hyderabad-based Raj shares the space with such international legends as Betty Wilson, Belinda Clark, Cathryn Fitzpatrick (all from Australia) and Enid Bakewell, England. The Prime Minister, in the address, also highlighted the achievements of ace woman Indian badminton player PV Sindhu who clinched a Silver medal at the Swiss Open in the early March. He said, “It’s interesting that in the month of March when we celebrate [International] Women’s Day, many women athletes won medals and created record.” In the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup held in New Delhi in 2021, India stood at the top of the medal tally. In the gold medal tally too, India was at the highest position. The consistency in women’s pistol – both 10 m and 25 m – shone throughout the tournament. Manu Bhaker, Yashaswani Singh Deswal, Rahi Sarnobat and Chinki Yadav delivered superb performances, with Bhaker being the winner across disciplines. Ganemat Sekhon became the first Indian woman to win a senior world cup medal in women’s skeet adding to her first junior medal for India in 2018. She added two more medals to that as India excelled in shotgun team events.
As far as the women achievers in Indian sports are concerned, the month of March, 2021, was not an aberration but rather indicative of the larger trend which has almost become an underlying narrative of the Indian sports. In the following month of April, Indian women boxers put up sensational performances and created history at the 2021 Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA), popularly known as International Boxing Association Youth Men and Women World Championships. A total of eight Indians made to the finals, in which seven of them were women. And all seven finished on the top of the podium. Gitika (48 kg), Naorem Babyrojisana Chanu (51 kg), Poonam (57 kg), Vinka (60 kg), Arundhati Choudhary (69 kg), T Sanamacha Chanu (75 kg) and Alfiya Pathan (81 kg) registered victories. In the 2017 edition of the same championship held in Guwahati, Indian women had won five gold medals. Some argued then that the performance had come on the back of favorable conditions on account of India being the host nation. But in the 2021 edition held in Poland, India’s women’s team finished as the No. 1 team, ahead of Russia, with seven gold medals. The Haryana pugilist, Gitika led the country’s dominance story. She knocked down local favorite Natalia Kuczewska 5-0 in the women’s 48 kg final. Asian Youth Champion Babyrojisana (51 kg) from Manipur had a flawless victory over European Junior Champion Russian Valeria Linkova.
Poonam, another Indian boxer, hit the aggressive mode from the word go and dominated her experienced French opponent Sthelyne Grosy of France. Her sharp and precise punches did not allow her contender to score any point, thereby leading Poonam to an easy 5-0 victory in the final bout. Haryana girl Vinka (60 kg) also delivered a spectacular show. Her punches against Kazakhastan boxer Zhuldyz Shayakhmetova packed such power that the referee had to intervene, stop the contest and declare India the winner. Rajasthani boxer Arundhati added one more gold for India when she completed a clean 5-0 win against Polish boxer Barbara Marcinkowska in the 69 kg final. Asian Youth Champion Sanamacha, who trains at MC Mary Kom’s academy in Imphal, added the historic sixth gold for India when she defeated Kazakhstan’s Dana Diday 5-0. Young boxing sensation from Maharashtra, Alfiya clinched the seventh gold for the country when she stunned European Youth Champion Moldova’s Daria Kozorez 5-0 in the finals.
If experts of the sport are to be believed, some of these young pugilists have the potential to go a long way and do well at the senior level, provided that they are guided in the right direction PM Modi has always encouraged the forward march of Indian women in varied fields, including sports. In his inaugural Independence Day speech on August 15, 2014, he had said that girls are equal partners in India’s development and spoke proudly of the “29 medals women athletes have won in the 2014 Commonwealth Games”. In recent years, the Olympics has seen an Indian contingent comprising an almost equal number of women and men, and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics 2021 is not going to be any different.