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Young Women Train to Wrestle in Conservative Indian State


In northern India, an increasing number of young women are learning to compete in the sport of wrestling.

Until recently, few girls and women trained for wrestling in the northern state of Haryana. The area has a strongly patriarchal culture. Men there appear to be in control of the government and much of society.

But after many female wrestlers were successful in international competitions, ideas about women in Haryana began to change.

On a cold winter morning, a group of young girls and women are preparing for three hours of training at the Chottu Ram Stadium, a sports center in the town of Rohtak.

Meenakshi, who uses just one name, is 12 years old. She starts her training at 6 in the morning, before school begins. She and other female wrestlers look up to Sakshi Malik, who trained at the stadium. Malik won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Meenakshi notes that Malik’s short wrestling match made her famous throughout the country.

“Only nine seconds she made her life wonderful, completely.”

Many people in Haryana state did not, and still do not, support the idea of women competing in the sport. Men control many of the state’s village councils. And many local women who are pregnant with girls end their pregnancies because they want to have sons. But ideas about women began to change after two women wrestlers performed well at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Mandeep supervises training for women and men, girls and boys. Like Meenakshi, he uses just one name. He says that when he came to the stadium six years ago, only a few girls wanted to become wrestlers. Now, he says, many parents want their daughters to train in the sport.

“Earlier, parents stopped the girls (from training in wrestling) and kept them at home because that was the social norm. Now, parents are supporting them in fulfilling their ambitions. It’s a huge social change."

Many of the young women training to become wrestlers live in villages where women’s bodies are often completely covered and where girls cannot mix with boys. The young women include 17-year-old Tina Malik, who has won a national medal in wrestling.

“Earlier, even for practice we could not wear clothes like this. Now we can wear this sports gear -- no one objects.”

Pinki Malik won a gold medal at the 2016 Commonwealth Championship. She hopes to win a medal at the next Olympics. But she says awards are not the only reason she competes.

“Women should get respect. That is the biggest issue -- respect. Wrestling will improve things for us.”

As their success changes people’s opinions, wrestling has become one way for Haryana’s girls and women to create their own future.

I’m Marsha James.

Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi for VOANews.com. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

patriarch – n. a man who controls a family, group, or government

stadium – n. a very large usually roofless building that has a large open area surrounded by many rows of seats and that is used for sports events, concerts, etc.

inspire – v. to make (someone) want to do something; to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

norm – n. standards of proper or acceptable behavior

fulfill – v. to succeed in achieving (something); to make (something, such as a dream) true or real

ambition – n. a particular goal or aim; something that a person hopes to do or achieve

medal – n. a piece of metal often in the form of a coin with designs and words in honor of a special event, a person or an achievement

gear – n. supplies, tools or clothes needed for a special purpose

object – v. to disagree with something or oppose something

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