Yes, Sakshi Malik’s bronze medal opened India’s account at the Rio Olympics and provided something to cheer about for the billion back home after a gloomy campaign at the Games.
However, the symbolism of her achievement goes beyond the medal and what it means for the country striving to become a world leader in all walks of life, but is starved of success on the global playing fields.
Her route to the medal—the bouts—are still fresh in our minds. Besides the technical aspects, what shone through was the determination she showed to fight till the end and the spark in her eyes every time she was on the mat in the wrestling arena that belied a belief that she belonged there and no one could beat her.
Malik was not there to lose and was not willing to give up on her dream. The 23-year-old later told the media how she kept reiterating that to herself right through her campaign to the medal in Rio.
She is used to making such positive personal affirmations. After all, ever since she took up wrestling, she has had to fight questions posed against the futility of the career path she has chosen.
Her journey, from Mokhra village in Rohtak, Haryana — a state with a social set up that does not allow women an equal chance as men — was never easy. Her family, to start with, was skeptical but soon extended its support for the 12-year-old daughter’s wish. And, 12 years down the road, the family stands tall as a proud example of what one can achieve if one dares to dream and break free from societal shackles.
Once Malik got into training, and started winning medals with ease at age-group and senior nationals, her challenges on the mat began. Sporting challenges, but.
She was in the same category as Geeta Phogat, a pioneer of Indian women’s wrestling and a great champion. Malik gained a lot from the healthy competition, fighting, improving the technical and mental side of her game, and has now stepped out of the shadow of her senior, whose family has helped Malik in many more ways.
The Phogats are the first family of Indian women’s wrestling — from Geeta to Babita Kumari and Vinesh Phogat, and two other junior wrestlers coming up — the family from Haryana were the first to break the glass ceiling, a formidable barrier set by the infamous khap panchayats.
Their journey has always been an inspiration for Malik, and her bronze medal, her grit and determination, will stand as inspiration for many more Sakshis.
She is indeed our Khel Ratna!