Born to poor fieldworkers in Manipur, a state in northeastern India that is ridden with insurgency. Married, mother of two. In a country that treats its women like dirt, and whose love of sport really only extends to men’s cricket. Men’s hockey and football come a distant second and third. Everything else can go to hell. And yet, despite ticking off pretty much every minority box (heh) possible, MC Mary Kom has fought and fought, all the way to an Olympic quarterfinal in boxing. This is the first time women’s boxing has been included in the Olympics, and Mary Kom is the only Indian in the ring. That’s a hell of a lot to have achieved already. And a hell of a lot of labels. Ordinarily I would balk at calling someone a woman boxer and not just a boxer. Ordinarily, I would hesitate to mention someone’s personal life or family background when talking about their sporting achievements. But Mary Kom’s achievements are far from ordinary, especially when seen in the context of her circumstances.
This is not a biography of the boxer – for that there’s Wikipedia. This is more about the shackles that bind women and what Mary Kom’s achievements could mean for Manipur, for India, for its sporting culture (or lack thereof), and for its women – should India choose to let it make a difference. Because we are famous for showering our champions with monetary gifts when they return from a tournament – and promptly forgetting they exist. And forgetting that with the right opportunity, encouragement, facilities, and incentive, we could have many more champions, and many of them women. I read somewhere that in terms of the population to gold medal ratio, India is the worst-ranked country in the world. Not exactly a record to be proud of. And given all that Mary Kom has done for her country (despite the fact that many better-educated Indians think her home state is part of China, and the way northeastern Indians are treated elsewhere in the country, it may as well be), it shouldn’t be so hard for her to get help from her government to acquire land for the boxing institute she wants to set up. But darling, yeh hai India. And so she puts her own money into it. And because it’s in Manipur, who cares?
Look, I’m not an athlete of any kind. I know only the barest basics of boxing. Nor am I in a position to step in and fill the government’s shoes in terms of doing what needs to be done. I’m just a layperson who happens to care, with an opinion and the means to air it. And I know that the people who read my blog are the kind of people who already know all this stuff, but maybe, just maybe, some random readers will get interested and tune in this evening (6:30 pm IST) to watch the quarterfinal. And maybe, if more bloggers (with a wider audience) can get more readers to watch, and if the viewership numbers go up, it will make a difference. Naively optimistic, but what else can I do? Meanwhile, Kom on Mary!