P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have lifted the sullen mood of the nation. For over a fortnight, there had been much handwringing and chest-beating at the otherwise disappointing performance at the Olympics.
Celebrations are in order. India’s tally of Olympic medals after over a century of participation remains paltry, and even a bronze is worth several hundred times its weight in gold. However, underlying the success of Sindhu and Sakshi success (and before them, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Karnam Malleswari) is a message that demands attention. It is terribly grim aspect of us as a society and nation.
Sakshi, for those not in the know, hails from Rohtak in Haryana listed as one of 262 districts in the country that is ‘gender critical’. This is defined as an area where the gender ratio is below 900 females to 1000 males.
According to the not-for-profit data agency IndiaSpend, the ideal ratio should be 940-980 females for 1000 males. In Rohtak, it is 867, an improvement on 840 in 2001, but still dismally low because of female foeticide.
You might wonder why I am digressing from Mumbai in this column this week, but IndiaSpend’s data study and analysis throws up discomfiting facts about the attitude to the girl child in this city too.
Quoting from demographer Ashish Bose’s book, Sex-Selective Abortion In India, IndiaSpend reports, “Some of India’s most prosperous areas in its richest cities, including Mumbai and Delhi, have the country’s lowest sex ratios.”
It goes on to add, “Female foeticide increases with easy access to medical facilities, ability to pay doctors and availability of good roads which cut down on travel time.’’ Essentially this suggests that the well-off are more guilty of female foeticide. Several stories done in newspapers over the years have substantiated that most sex-determination clinics – under camouflage of course — have flourished in South Mumbai than elsewhere.
Sakshi (and Sindhu too, though she comes from a different state) I have used as a metaphor to highlight not female foeticide, but to drive home the point about our degrading attitude towards the girl child. This creates extraordinary hardships they have to go through to just play sport. If they still rise to eminence at the Olympics, it is truly spectacular.
I have no strong evidence or study to show if such neglect has impacted the city’s achievements in sport, but there is food for thought nonetheless. However, what has certainly affected Mumbai’s sports fortunes is the lack of world-class sports infrastructure. This has had a deleterious effect. In the past, several Olympians were part of Mumbai life. These are diminishing rapidly.
Across the length and breadth of the city and especially in posh sections — South, West, East or North – international standard sporting facilities are rare. We have fancy buildings, developers going all out to woo the moneyed and the upwardly mobile, but scant attention is paid to the infrastructure that builds champions. The usual culprit is the government and there is no argument that its faults are many. Yet Mumbai has never depended wholly on government for anything, so why now? A sustained effort from people who can for the people who don’t have would be of great help. Perhaps it is time to recreate the Mumbai that stood up for itself without asking for official handouts.
It is a sporting and generous gesture by Salman Khan to give Rs1 lakh each to India’s Olympic athletes. However what Mumbai (and Indian) sport needs is a broader effort at the formative levels.
The city’s influential people need to step up. Industrialists, film stars and sports stars are Mumbai’s big contributions to the Indian ethos.
The NGO Olympic Gold Quest is headquartered in Mumbai. Companies like Mahindras and Tatas have long associations with sport. Nita Ambani is now part of the International Olympic Association.
How wonderful if Mumbai’s caring citizens and its high profile denizens pool in their resources, vision and the give a boost to sports in the city. Much as we crave medals at international events like the Olympics, we are not yet a nation with a sporting ethos. Parents do not see sport as a career. Schools do not encourage sport over academics. Society does not take a sporting effort seriously enough.
The only way out of this is to change ourselves -- from within and without.