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Powerpuff girls who defy gender taboo

Weaker sex, what? They can intimidate eve-teasers, pack a real punch in the ring and aggressively pound social beliefs that restrict the fair sex from venturing into traditional male bastions.

Meet the emerging breed of brawny belles who swear by self-empowerment through boxing or wrestling — sporting disciplines where women competitors are still looked down upon, often with singeing scorn.

Take for example 26-year-old Jyoti, one of the most promising women wrestlers India boasts today and one who clinched gold in the 67kg category at the ongoing 62nd All India Wrestling Cluster Championship in Ranchi on Tuesday.

Once upon a time in Old Delhi, Jyoti’s life was a synonym for humiliation.

“For a girl, it is never easy to venture into unconventional territories. On top of that, I was born in a poor Dalit family. You can imagine how everyone at home and outside reacted when I first said I wanted to be a pehlwan (wrestler),” she said.

Everyone — from relatives to neighbours — disparaged her interest. “Taunts were hurled at my parents. Said people, ‘Teri beti kachche mein ghumti hai; aare kyun apna aur hum sab ka izzat kharab karti hai loundo ki tarah akhare mein kud kud ke (Your daughter moves around in shorts; she is losing her dignity and insulting us by playing a sport meant for men)’,” Jyoti recalled.

But, success is sweet.

“Though the mindset in my hometown hasn’t changed completely, my critics slowly became my admirers after I bagged a silver in the 2004 Junior Asian Wrestling Championship in Kazakhstan. More victories followed and people were impressed, albeit more by my foreign trips than what I achieved as a wrestler.

“Today, people come to my house and tell my mother, ‘Meri beti ko bhi phelwan bana de (Help my daughter become a wrestler too)’,” Jyoti, who works as a constable with Delhi Police, said.

Ace wrestler (66kg category) Geetika Jhakar, who became the first woman in the sport to receive the Arjuna Award in 2006, said power disciplines such as wrestling and boxing emphasise that women weren’t born to just play second fiddle.

“We are caring and compassionate by nature. But, that does not mean we can’t be rough when time and circumstances demand,” the 28-year-old Haryana policewoman said.

“I was born in a village in Hissar, where mud wrestling was a favourite sport among boys. Every time I watched the game, I felt I could outsmart them. Once I decided what to do in life, the journey wasn’t easy. There were both social and professional pressures. Staying focussed was my only way out,” said Geetika who has also won gold at the ongoing meet at the mega sports complex in Hotwar.

Jharkhand pugilist Taruna Mishra remembered how tease torment prompted her to take up boxing. “Eve-teasing has always been a curse here. In our adolescent years, my sister Aruna and I used to beat up boys who harassed women on streets. We could never let go that fighting spirit and realised that boxing was our calling.”

Are women welcomed in the sport?

“Six-seven years ago, boxing and wrestling were taboo for our gender. Perceptions are changing, although slowly, because of women who have put India on the world map,” Taruna said.

“During practice today, we sisters fought men of our weight category. We returned every punch they pulled at us. Gender is no bar. And, if you talk of challenges, being a woman is the biggest one. For me, the day to celebrate women empowerment will be when every girl is able ward off her tormentor single-handedly,” the boxer left food for thought.