From facing up to villagers who warned her parents ‘ye ladki bigad jayegi (she will become a bad woman)’ to inspiring women of her village to have careers, Commonwealth championships silver medallist Babita Nagar has come a long way in breaking gender stereotypes in a patriarchal village.
Babita teaches wrestling and kabaddi to 40 girls, mostly aged between 15 and 17, on her field in Greater Noida’s Sadullapur village. The training starts at 4am and goes on up to 8am, after which Babita travels to Delhi to start work as a police official. However, things were not so rosy always.
When Babita took up wrestling in 1992, against the wishes of her family and village elders, she was ridiculed and humiliated by boys during her practice in the wrestling pit that was dominated by men.
Braving the odds, Babita continued to train as a wrestler and fight gender stereotypes. After winning many state and national level tournaments, Babita joined the Delhi police as a constable in 2001, under the sports quota.
She said that the villagers’ perception of her changed after she joined the police force. She is the first women from her village to become a police official.
Babita Nagar | Wrestling stereotypes and empowering youngsters
In 2005, after visiting Balali village, home to Geeta Phogat, India’s first gold medallist in women’s wrestling at Commonwealth Games, Babita was inspired by the facilities and encouragement for women to take up the sport and wanted to motivate girls of her village to learn wrestling.
“Initially, I used to coach the girls in my village on muddy roads and vacant agricultural fields. As the word spread, girls from nearby villages also started showing interest,” Babita said.
After 24 years of struggle, Babita stands tall as a coach, guide and a respectable police official. Now, men and boys in Sadullapur approach her to learn wrestling, she notes ironically.
“After Babita’s success story, farmers who hesitated to send their daughters to college are now supporting them to take up wrestling. Babita has changed the mindset of many and given women a new opportunity to make a mark on society. The tradition in our region was to educate girls to an intermediate level and get them married. Nobody thought that girls should have a career,” Mangeram Bhati, an advocate from the region, said.
“I dreamt of becoming a wrestler after I saw women’s wrestling on television but I didn’t know how to go about it. Then I heard of Babita didi (elder sister) two years ago and joined her academy,” 18-year-old Dolly Bhati, an undergraduate student, said.
Dolly and eight girls from Maicha village travel 35 kilometres daily to attend the training. Girls have to wake up early as they have to catch the early train to reach the training camp by 4am. The academy is located near Sadullapur station on the Delhi-Howrah route.
Babita says her aim is to empower women through a combination of wrestling and education.
“Two years ago, I fenced 5,000 square yards of agricultural land, built a temporary room, restroom and a mud wrestling pit to provide better training to the girls. I could not win Olympic medals or do better in wrestling due to lack of sports facilities here. I do not want that to happen to other girls,” Babita said.
Babita spends her own money to run the facility and takes no fee from her students. However, Babita moans the lack of training facilities for women wrestlers. The closest wrestling stadiums to Sadullapur are in Meerut and Delhi.
“In the absence of tarpaulin mats, girls have to train in mud pits. Girls from a village, which is 40 kilometres away from the academy, come here to become wrestlers. I train them in kabaddi and wrestling,” Babita said.
“Girls from villages fail to realise their sports dreams because the government does not care to provide facilities. If we have proper facilities, girls can do wonders. Girls from Haryana excel in sports as they have the facilities for it, right from the district level,” she said.
Babita said that young women who could not continue to train due to financial problems often opt for a job in the police department; she has helped around 70 women join the police force in UP and Delhi over the last 10 years.
“To produce world-class wrestlers, the government will have to provide sports facilities that are on par with international standards. I have to train girls in the mud because we cannot afford tarpaulin mats that alone cost Rs 13 lakh,” she said.
The 32-year-old is a role model for girls who dream of becoming a wrestler. She said that her goal is to see one of her pupils get selected for the Olympics, but moans that in the absence of facilities, all that her pupils can aim for are government jobs under the sports quota.