Mokhra Khas (Haryana): You don’t need to know the name of Sakshi Malik’s village to get there. On the Rohtak-Bhiwadi road, her name is direction enough. From an old tea-stall owner to a tracksuit-clad young man clutching a sports kit to a guava-chomping man, everyone knows who she is and, consequently, her village.

“Mokhra Khas is actually a pehalwan village (a village of wrestlers). Every family here boasts of at least one wrestler son," says Rajiv Malik, a farmer.

Interesting then that the most famous wrestler to come from here is a 23-year-old, who finally opened India’s account at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, as they are officially known—the 2016 Olympic Games—by winning the bronze in wrestling in the women’s freestyle 58kg category on 18 August in Rio de Janeiro.

If Sakshi Malik had lived in Mokhra Khas, her wrestling dreams would have struggled to take off. For, in spite of the village’s wrestling tradition, women are not allowed to practise in the village’s akhara Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
If Sakshi Malik had lived in Mokhra Khas, her wrestling dreams would have struggled to take off. For, in spite of the village’s wrestling tradition, women are not allowed to practise in the village’s akhara Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Ironically, if Malik had lived in the village, her wrestling dreams would have struggled to take off. For, in spite of the village’s wrestling tradition, women are not allowed to practise in the village’s akhara (which is now referred to as an academy).

Malik may live and train in Rohtak, but her ties with the village, where her extended family still lives, are very strong. So much so that her uncle Ved Pal Malik says confidently that from Rio, Sakshi will come straight to the village. “We have requests from every sarpanch between Rohtak and Delhi to bring her to their village once she returns," he explains.

Champions are not new to Mokhra. We have sent more than 100 men in service to the nation in both police and defence but now we want women to go ahead- Sandip Malik, PT teacher at a private school in nearby Kalanor.

The sporting culture of Haryana, which has given rise to boxers, wrestlers, hockey players and now three Olympians over the past decade, is in full evidence in this village of 10,000-odd residents that considers farming to be its principal occupation.

The first people Mint meets on the outskirts of the village are Nancy Kandil and Bunty, who uses only one name, both in their pre-teens. Dressed in an identical uniform of black T-shirts and blue track pants, they are returning from practice sessions of kabaddi and kho kho, respectively. Both started playing a couple of years ago. Their friend’s father picks them up after practice every day.

“Our girls play everything, from wrestling to kabaddi to even karate. In the evening, the school ground (Rajkiya Kanya Vidyalaya) is packed. We have another budding wrestler who is currently training in Rohtak," says Surinder Malik, a sarpanch.

There are only a handful of players in the school ground, but it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon and they are taking their time to trickle in.

Sakshi Malik’s village, Mokhra Khas. The village wants to build a stadium to make practising easy. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Sakshi Malik’s village, Mokhra Khas. The village wants to build a stadium to make practising easy. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Sakshi Malik’s name coaxes a shy smile out of almost everyone who has gathered, most for their karate class.

“We’ve participated in the national championships. Next year, I will move to Rohtak to study further and play more," says Nikita Vasisht, a Class XII student. She is a national-level karate practitioner.

“Champions are not new to Mokhra. We have sent more than 100 men in service to the nation in both police and defence but now we want women to go ahead," says Sandip Malik, a physical training teacher at a private school in nearby Kalanor.

The village wants a stadium, with the required facilities, to make practising easy.

“Right now, they only have the school ground and local enthusiasts. If there are proper facilities, then things can improve," he says.

A recent report in Mint showed that the sex ratio in Mokhra is 822.2, whereas the average in Haryana is 877.

ALSO READ | What Census data tells us about Sakshi Malik’s village

And indeed, for all its talk about encouraging women, it’s the men here who do the talking, even though Vasisht and her friends are brimming with confidence.

“Well, yes, women were not seen or heard much here till even six years ago. They were mostly married off after school and there really was not much question of encouraging them to take on anything. But now things are changing. Girls want to pursue sports and parents are encouraging them," says sarpanch Surinder Malik.

What brought about this change? The answer lies in the incentives the state government has been offering athletes, especially in terms of jobs and cash prizes.

...Things are changing. Girls want to pursue sports and parents are encouraging them- Sarpanch Surinder Malik

“We had an MLA from our village, Balbir Singh alias Bali Pehalwan (he was with the Indian National Lok Dal). He did not get us as many jobs as sports has done. So why should we not encourage it?" Sakshi’s uncle asks, before letting it drop that Singh is currently in prison.

Mokhra now awaits the return of its famous daughter even as others hope they can do a Sakshi. Till then, they will continue pursuing their dreams and defying tradition.

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