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Grappler Sakshi Malik (left) won the bronze in wrestling while PV Sindhu clinched silver in badminton, the only medals that India has so far won at Rio Olympics. Photo: AP & PTI
Grappler Sakshi Malik (left) won the bronze in wrestling while PV Sindhu clinched silver in badminton, the only medals that India has so far won at Rio Olympics. Photo: AP & PTI

Why Indian women’s Olympic feats are even more admirable

Five charts that show why the Indian women's performance in the Olympics is worth more than any number of medals they bring home

New Delhi: Women have clearly been the stars for India in the Rio Olympics, and that’s not limited to badminton star P.V. Sindhu, who on Friday became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal in an Olympics, and bronze medal-winning wrestler Sakshi Malik.

Others such as Dipa Karmakar, who came fourth in the gymnastics vault, and Lalita Babar, who reached the final of the 3,000m steeplechase event, also left their imprint on Rio.

If anything, the performance is all the more praiseworthy given the discrimination the average Indian girl child faces, sometimes before she is even born.

Here are five charts that show why the Indian women’s performance in the Olympics is worth more than any number of medals they bring home.

There are fewer women than men in India

Practices such as female infanticide have skewed India’s gender ratio, or the number of women per 1,000 men, which is much worse than the global average. According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators database, India had only 929 women per 1,000 men in 2015. The global average is 982. What is even worse is that India’s child sex ratio has fallen steeply in recent years.

Women fare worse on health indicators than men

It takes the highest levels of fitness to compete at an event like the Olympics. Indian women on average fare worse on nutritional indicators than men. More than half of Indian women are anaemic. For men, the figure is just about one-fourth. A Plain Facts article published in April had shown how, despite being ahead of boys in the 0-5 age group, women fall behind on nutritional indicators due to poor dietary diversity in the years of adolescence.

Fewer girls go to school, and most miss out on sports

It does not take rocket science to say that to win at an event like the Olympics, one must start training early. Like senior journalist Shekhar Gupta wrote in a column in Business Standard, Sultan style stories, where Salman Khan wins a gold medal after preparing for a year, are pure fantasy.

ALSO READ | Rio Olympics: PV Sindhu goes down fighting, settles for silver

Malik told reporters that her medal was the result of 12 years of hard work. There can be no better place to identify sporting talent and start training them than school. More girls are illiterate than boys in the 7-19 age group. This means they do not go to school, so they have fewer chances of being initiated into sports.

Women are bound in the chains of early marriage

Jagmati Sangwan, a well-known activist against draconian and patriarchal khap panchayats, was a volleyball player before she joined the women’s movement. She became a rebel when her teammates were not allowed to continue with sports because they were married. Things have not changed much. Women are married off at a much younger age than men, which undoubtedly makes it more difficult for them to continue with sports.

The off-field struggle

In a country where bigots of all hues love to issue diktats on dress codes for women, defeating stereotypes and prejudices off-field can be equally, if not more, difficult than defeating competitors on the field for sportswomen. Add to that sexual harassment and insecurity. An earlier Plain Facts story had shown that a fewer proportion of women take overnight trips alone in India. A sportswoman would find it more difficult to travel to get to training venues or compete in tournaments.

Despite all these hardships, Indian sportswomen have made their mark in international sport. People’s Daily, China’s official newspaper, once used the phrase “a single spark will light a prairie fire" for India in a very different context. Malik and Sindhu’s success could well light a prairie fire in the fight for gender equality in India.

ALSO READ | Rio Olympics: Wrestler Sakshi Malik makes India proud

ALSO READ | One small step for Dipa Karmakar could be a giant leap for India

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