Monday, 6 August 2012

But the fighter still remains

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! 


  1. BTW
    Manipur is a matriarchal society - women run most of the shops, manage many of the businesses and have been historically empowered for many generations. It could be relevant to Mary's achievements.

  2. DD - True, but it doesn't take away from her very low-income upbringing. Or from the rest of India's attitude to sports or women or the northeastern states. And she still has to put in her own money for that institute, even in Manipur.

  3. I agree – Manipur may be matriarchal, but that does not take away this woman's achievements, and what this means to women everywhere, Manipur, and our country. Hopefully Mary, and all her supporters, will put this state, and this country – in dire need of help – in the spotlight, forcing our government to do maybe do something right.

  4. We should celebrate if she wins tonight. Perhaps a drink at Urban Pind?

  5. am thinking maybe India should get matriarchal, if that is what gets rewards. Who cares, she is a winner and perhaps only in an oft forgotten corner of India can one attempt a meritocracy. Income not being being measure of success but yes a low income means surmounting greater odds.

  6. Mary,the Gold is yours.You can do it.The whole country is behind you.Give it all you've got.No power on earth is going to stop you now.God Bless.

  7. Dear Samira,

    All very good thoughts and a clever little defensive ending to your blog post. Firstly, I agree with you completely on Manipur being ignored politically, sportingly and even geographically. Moreover, I agree that sports other than cricket need to be nurtured. We are obsessed with cricket and don’t give a rats ass about any other sport.

    The reason I’m writing on your blog is that I want to bring up the “I’m a woman in India and I don’t get shit out of this country” attitude in your blog. Let me be very candid in saying that I’m pro women and equal rights etc. I’m not resentful of successful women and I am equally ecstatic about Mary Kom achievements as you are, considering her circumstances. I don’t beat up women or anything else that might crop up in your head.

    Let me list down a few Indian women who are successful in India and abroad. This list is not comprehensive, just the names that come to my mind.

    Sports – PT Usha, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza and Mary Kom. Here is the comprehensive list.

    Politics – Sonia Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, M. Banerjee, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Sheila Dikshit. There are many more in this category. Here is the comprehensive list.

    Business – Chanda Kochchar (CEO ICICI Bank), Shikha Sharma (MD and CEO, Axis Bank). Aruna Jayanthi (CEO, Capgemini India). Vinita Bali (Managing Director, Britannia Industries), Shobhana Bhartia (Chairperson and Editorial Director, HT Media), Chitra Ramakrishna (Joint Managing Director, National Stock Exchange), Naina Lal Kidwai (Group General Manager and Country Head, HSBC India), Kalpana Morparia (CEO, J.P. Morgan India)

    There are other areas such as literature, entertainment, entrepreneurship and the list is endless where Indian Women are successful and are/have changing India and the world. Let me bring out a fact, top 5 investment banks in India are run by women. This should be astonishing to you because Investment Banking is a male dominated world in India and globally.

    Yes, we have all seen/heard about Satyamev Jayatev episodes and loser Indian men who beat their wives up and kill their daughters as soon as they are born. These men should be stoned to death.
    I don’t want this to be a nagging blog post. I am trying to put forth an argument that might make you think about this issue a little differently. Because you went to LSR, this “women in India” stance is entrenched in your way of thinking.

    Opportunities are there for women in India just as they are for men. The greatest male boxers of all time such as Ali or Tyson all came from impoverished backgrounds. Boxing, as a sport, is different than any other sport as along with being an athlete you need to be a fast, pain inflicting machine that comes from aggression. Kudos to Mary Kom for doing both of them so well.

    I think you being a woman should start by getting rid of this attitude of Indian Women being suppressed and not given chances. Probably if you do that then maybe instead of blogging about it you can actually do something to prove those idiotic men wrong!

    Just saying and best of luck.

    1. The central point of my message was that the odds of a man or woman succeeding in his/her field are almost the same in our country. Its a dog eat dog world out there not just in India. For every successful man there are lakhs that are un-successful as well.

      I did not say you were a man-hater! You're wrong about the part regarding my response if it were a male blogger because I never said that "you" are saying "poor me".

      There has never been a woman US President but still in a country like ours we have had 2 women who have been prime ministers. I guess I'm not expressing myself properly.

      Women need more opportunities. But claiming that just because you are a woman you deserve it is wrong in my opinion. Basically, i'm saying that the sense of righteousness because somebody is a woman is wrong in my view. We are not in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia where there are clear distinctions between what the two sexes can do or not do. You make it sound like (metaphorically) that we are living in downtown Riyadh.

      Lastly, I like your blogs. Please don't treat it as a personal attack. My comment on LSR was inappropriate.

    2. Thanks for your clarifications. I'm still a bit uncomfortable with some of the points you make - for example, the "righteousness because someone is a woman" or the idea that because someone is a woman, they deserve an opportunity. I certainly never said that in my post, so unless I'm not understanding you properly, I still feel you're ascribing views to me that I never said I had! And yes, the whole point was that Indians in general need more opportunities in different fields, different sports - both men and women. But it would be a fallacy to say that the odds of a man or a woman succeeding - in India or anywhere - are the same. And definitely, other countries too have problems when it comes to women's rights and India is better off than some and worse off than some. My post wasn't about those countries though.

      Lastly, thank you for your compliments about my blog :) I hope you'll keep reading.

  8. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for writing. A few points:

    First, how do you know where I went to college? Second, given that you (presumably) didn't go to LSR, how would you know what ideas are entrenched in my way of thinking and if that has anything to do with where I studied?

    Third, thank you for your comprehensive list of Indian women who have been able to achieve great things. It is not astonishing to me but it is also not the point of my blog post. For every woman who has been able to get out there and make a name for herself, there are lakhs more who haven't. And even the lucky ones who have the freedom to choose their paths in life, living in this country is still not all peachy. I may have a great job that I chose, I may not face any familial pressure on any aspect of my life. But that doesn't take away from the fact that India still treats its women like dirt. If I have been able to do many things my way, it's because I've been luckier than many others, not because India makes it easy. Frankly, if I had the "I don't get shit out of this country" attitude that you have ascribed to me, I wouldn't live here. But this post is not about me - it's a larger point. Similarly, while I'm glad to know that you're pro-women, pro-equal rights, and don't beat up women, I must also say that this post is not about you either. For every person like you, there are lakhs more who are sexist and violent.

    I am not a man-hater, despite what you may feel you know about me given what you may have inferred about my education. But I certainly don't think women are treated on par with men, or have the same opportunities that they do, and for you to think that is fairly naive, at best. Indian women being suppressed is not "my attitude", it's a fact. Also, I never said I feel I can do nothing else "because I am a woman". It's because I am not in that position, either as a sportsperson, or a sports authority person, or a govt official - as I clearly explained in the post. I would like to ask you - if a male blogger had said "What else can I do?" exactly in the same context as I did, you would assume they mean because they are not in that position of power, right? But since you know I am a woman, you assume I mean "poor me, I'm a woman in this horrible country". Your own assumption proves the inequality. You proved my point. Just a thought.