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June 08, 2017

Feisty Achievers: Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat

Text by Tina Dastur

For their hard work, passion and muscle power on the mat that has seen them win many a laurel for the country

The story of the Phogat sisters — Geeta and Babita — is inspiring. Under the watchful eye of their father-cum-coach, Mahavir Singh Phogat, the two girls from Bhiwani defied societal expectations to successfully carve their rightful place in the sport of wrestling. And even though Dangal got them widespread fame and acclaim only last year, Geeta and her younger sister Babita have been silently setting benchmarks through their performances in the ring. With Commonwealth golds, silvers and bronzes under their belts and berths at the Olympics, they have proven many wrong about what women are capable of.

Daddy’s girls
Geeta Phogat (GP): In our state, taking up wrestling was very difficult. When we started playing the sport, we realised that nobody else was doing it. In Haryana, most women still live in a ghunghat and are often not allowed to venture outside their homes. So even thinking of pursuing wrestling was a big deal. But my father always supported us.

Babita Phogat (BP): Yes, our father has been our rock. When Karnam Malleswari won her medal at the Olympics, my father said that she is also someone’s daughter — and that if she can win a medal, why can’t he train his daughters to do the same.

The importance of hard work
GP: Lots of hard work goes into wrestling. But if I have practised hard enough, it builds up a lot of self-confidence.

BP: I agree. In that sort of situation, regardless of the opponent, I can take her on and will not give up until the last minute. On the contrary, if I haven’t worked hard, my heart won’t be in the game and then I’ll get very anxious and jittery.

Highs and lows
GP: If we lose, we can’t afford to sit in a corner and mope. Yes, of course we feel bad because we’ve worked so hard and put in so much effort but then the result didn’t go our way….

BP: That also means that there is some change that needs to be brought about in our game plan. On the flip side, if we win, we don’t over-celebrate either because we still need to work on our game.

Diet cheat sheet and days off
GP: There is no such thing as a diet cheat sheet for us because it is not like Babita and I win a match and then can take a week off to relax and celebrate.

BP: You cannot do that in a sport like wrestling. I cannot not train for a day, let alone a week! And there is no concept of a Sunday either. We train every day.

On women in wrestling
GP: In 2010, when India hosted the Commonwealth Games (CWG), our country became a lot more aware about different kinds of games and sports. People heard about sports other than cricket. The fact that the media covered it well helped in highlighting different kinds of sports, which women then started taking up.

BP: People will know only what they see, right? The 2010 CWG gave many the encouragement to take up new sports. The 2016 Rio Olympics was viewed a lot more than the previous editions. And the movie Dangal only helped the cause. It garnered a lot of interest in wrestling. Even in our village, parents have started encouraging their children to enrol in sports and are even bringing their daughters to our house and asking us to train them. So that is certainly a positive sign, and we welcome it.

Girl power
GP: A lot of people still think that girls can’t achieve anything. It hurts to know that all the rules and restrictions are put only on us girls.  If you don’t let your girls go out and face the world and its challenges, how will they learn to recognise and overcome them? They will be at a complete loss.

BP: I too believe that girls should be allowed to venture out of their homes. They should be educated and taught and supported by their parents regardless of the careers they take up. Families need to stop being afraid of letting their daughters walk out of the house. If you don’t let them go, this fear will never go away and will only fester…and then whatever strength the girl has will also be squashed. Parents often tend to make their girls weak by constantly teaching them to be afraid. They need to be strong and trust their daughters. And the daughters need to be taught from a very young age about how to deal with problems and be tough.

Pearls of wisdom
GP: If you want to accomplish something in your life, you need to forget about what society thinks and says. If you are doing something good, don’t be afraid.

BP: Absolutely! Your duty and your work come first. Keep working hard because the day you achieve your goals, society will be forced to shut up.

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