Irony, thy name is Haryana. Or so, the State has been perceived in the last 50 years of its formation. This supposedly inherent contradiction has varied facets. Firstly, in terms of area, Haryana stands at 21st amongst all the states of the country. In terms of
population, the State stands at number 18. And the most populous city of the State is the industrial town of Faridabad, adjacent to Delhi. Secondly, economically, the State is amongst one of the most developed in the country. Haryana has basically an agrarian economy which benefitted from the Green Revolution leading to the relative prosperity in its rural economy. The State has got a sound industrial base, with a sizeable lead in the manufacturing of tractors, sanitary wares and bicycles. Haryana has one of the highest per capita incomes of the country with a miniscule single digit of its population living below the poverty line. The State has made
significant strides in the fields of health and education resulting in the decline in overall mortality and increased life expectancy. Thirdly, this historically progressive social
scenario has another side emphasised and re-emphasised, by streams of intellectuals and media over the years—a carefully fortressed feudal and patriarchal society where gender discrimination and inequality are the norms. Amongst these contradictory streams, the State has emerged as the sporting mine field of the nation. Importantly, sports have come up as a catalyic agent in gradually bringing down this fortress.
“The twin contradictory strands of embedded feudalism, patriarchy, gender descrimination and
inequality, against the State
emerging as leading medal bowl of the country, needs to be understood in proper context. With barely 2 per cent of the population, post 2010 Commonwealth Games, the State’s medal count on an average in the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and National Games is robust 40 per cent. And more often than not, women players have emerged as the leaders of this sporting revolution”, says Shekhar Chaudhary, the journalist who has
followed the state for years. Medal
winner in Sydney Olympics, Karnam Malleswari gives us further insight to this unique trend. Malleswari, one of the country’s finest athletes hails from Andhra Pradesh and she got married to a Haryanvi Rajesh Tyagi. “If my
mother was the one who nurtured my sporting dreams in childhood, it was my father in law who backed my
sporting passion to the hilt after my marriage. I do remember that when I was settling here after marriage, people in hushed tone used to question- why I was not in ‘ghunghat’. My father in law over ruled them all. He used to often say, “jab pooree duniya ne shots me mere bahu ko kirteemaan banaate huye dekha hai, to vo aaj ghunghat mein rahegee..aisa kabhee naheen hogaa”. (the world has seen my daughter in law taking huge sporting strides in shots. And today you want to confine her to ghoonghat. This is impossible). My husband Rajesh throughout has been my pillar of strength”. This rebellious streak amongst the males of society which is supposed to be notorious for highly unequal gender relations, the symptoms of which include- the continued
practice of female seclusion, very low female participation rates, a large gap in literacy rates and strong boy preference in fertility decisions, is more a trend than an exception.
The same male rebellious streak defines Mahavir Singh Phogat. In order to accomplish his unfulfilled sporting dreams, Mahavir pushed his daughters in the wrestling akhada. He could smell talent in Geeta
and Babita. When Phogat sisters started wrestling with the boys of the same village, the entire village
boycotted his family. ‘Uske ghar se hukka-paanee kaa koi sawaal hee naheen uthtaa’, was the war cry of his relatives and friends. But when Phogat sisters started getting national and international acclaim, the entire
scenario changed drastically. As we enter Baliyali village in Bhiwani
district today, his is the most famous address. The entire village takes pride in Phogat sisters’ achievements and Mahavir has emerged as the role model for many. India’s Rio dream saviour Sakshi Malik, comes from
village Mokhra in Rohtak district. The village has the sex ratio of 800, far lower than Haryana’s average of 834. When she decided to take wrestling seriously, the first murmur of protest started from her home. ‘Wrestling is not meant for women’, she used to hear this constantly. Coach Ishwar Singh Dhaiya still remembers the day when a young Sakshi accompanied her mother to the Sir Chotu Ram Stadium wrestling academy in Rohtak. “When she had to be trained with the boys and fight them in akharas, in a region where sport was not for girls, there were wide furore. Slowly things
started changing. Whenever, Sakshi won medals, the boys here would also bring sweets for Sakshi and we all
celebrated together. Gradually, the entire village started clebrating”, says Ishwar Singh, another flag bearer of this rebellious male streak. As Gagan Jain, leading sports management expert says, “If we want Haryana to win this decisive battle against gender inequality, we need more and more of this rebellious streak to come out. It’s in ample there. The State Government has come up with a laudable campaign theme of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. The change is palpable now. However, for this idea to reach its logical
conclusion, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ should become ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padho and Beti Khilao”. Haryana takes pride in their sporting success as nowhere in the country.
How is this pride in their sporting culture inherent in the society at large? How far does it explain the success of the state in sports? Bhupinder Yadav, a leading educationist in one of his
article writes, “All sports are oriented towards Olympics slogan, ‘higher, faster, stronger’. But ones in which Haryana got medals stand for plain force or aggression like wrestling, boxing and shooting. Anthropologists call them contact sports because the opponents have bodily contact in them. Shooting is a combative sport because opponents use a combat weapon. Such sports are a substitute for war or training for it”. Yadav
further adds in this article, ‘I can think of three reasons for Haryana being India’s pride in contact and combative sport. Firstly, the State has a volatile history of continuous aggression, due to its geographical location on the frontier. Secondly, the people of Haryana have a valued physical strength and perseverance due to its peasant culture. Being less than 4 hectares each, 83.5 per cent of the landholdings in Haryana are
uneconomical. Unable to hire
agriculture labour, such farms are
cultivated by the family labour. Family members slog on and on till their fields have been sown, weeded or harvested. The stamina of the people is thus built on their everyday routine. A liking for sports amongst such people is always inevitable. Thirdly, the sports policy over the years has honed the killer
athletics spirit in Haryana”.
Thus, inherent in the
socio-economic landscape are the traits of aggression, physical strength and perseverance- which are the
essentials for sports. And this socio economic fabric has been honed
by affirmative government actions
in terms of policy and its
implementation. The Haryana Governments have rewarded its
athletes and given them jobs and
promotions more than any other State of the country. The present Manohar Lal Government, starting with the new sports policy of organising
competitions has taken numerous
seminal steps in this direction. These steps are focused and concrete.
The Government came up with its new sports policy in its very first year. The major thrust areas of Haryana Physical Activities and Sports Policy- 2015, are: firstly, strengthening the states sporting infrastructure and
incentivising grass roots sportspersons. The State Government intends to come up with a ‘Yogshala’ having basic sports facilities in every village of the state. Another immediate target is to have one international class sports high performance centre in each and every district of the state. Secondly, conferring the right to employment on medal winners in recognised international competitions. This includes coming up with a
transparent and institutionalised
structure, wherein the athletes could update their achievements in the
website and the level of competition and success in terms of points leading to them getting consumerate jobs and
promotions. Thirdly, insurance scheme and concrete lifetime assistance to sportspersons in the shape of the
pension schemes. The consequent social and economic security will inspire more and more youths in taking up sports as the career option.
As Gujarat model in terms of
economic growth model, Haryana has come up with a model in sports from which other states in the country could take cue. The model is still a work in progress. Many rough edges are to be fixed. Every state of the country does not have the socio-economic fabric as Haryana which could act as an enabler in sports. However, Haryana has come up with a hope; the hope for the daughters of the State to become
leaders in sports and thus reform the society. The hope for the country, that India too can become a global
sporting power if we promote and
sustain the sports as Haryana does. Courtesy sports, Haryana’s story is not that of an irony, but inspiration for a change within and outside.
(The writer is senior Sports Journalist)